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an ocean away

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Alfred stands at the bow of his ship, relishing in the feeling of the sea air whipping his hair back and forth, his eyes fixed on a sail on the horizon. The Andromache; they’ve been tracking her for weeks, and the journey has somewhat tested the patience of his men, but with the prize in sight, they have redoubled their efforts as they push their ship to its limits in pursuit.

“What’s the plan then, Captain Pelides?” George sidles up beside him, tipping his hat mockingly.

Alfred eyes the Andromache again. “It’s all in the timing. If we can get it just right then we might not have to fight too hard to take her. Avoid a struggle.”

“It might be a good thing to give the men a fight – might help them let off a little steam, make sure we all arrive on dry land safe and sound.” George glances at Alfred a little warily. 

“Out with it, George, say whatever it is you have to say.”

“The men have been whispering. Billy’s stirring trouble, speculating about where you go when we’re on land. You should be more careful, Alfred, it’s almost too easy for him to make you sound like a traitor.”

“Perhaps Billy should keep his nose out of my business. Lord knows I pay him enough.” Alfred says, rolling his eyes, before taking his telescope from his belt and inspecting the Andromache again. 

“You know Billy wants your captaincy. He won’t stop until he’s seen you deposed.”

“I can handle Billy.” Alfred tucks his telescope back into his belt. George glances at him, eyebrows raised. 

“I didn’t think you had it in you.” 

“Oh don’t look at me like that, George, I’m not going to kill him. I just mean him and I will have a conversation, and if he can’t be brought to see reason then he might be asked to leave the crew.”

“If he leaves, you know he’ll take a good chunk of the crew with him.”

Alfred shrugs. “It is much easier to find new men than to resuscitate a dead captain. Besides, I’m the one who helps these men win good prizes, I’m the one who tracks down our leads, not Billy. Perhaps, when we take the Andromache, I can remind them of that.”

“Why exactly are we chasing her, Alfred. You’re being very cryptic about all this, and I can’t say it’s helping your case with the men. If she’s not loaded with gold I suspect your position as captain might be in jeopardy, and not just because of Billy.”

“Are you warning me as my Quartermaster, or as my brother, George?” Alfred nudges him playfully.

“I just want to make sure your head stays firmly on your shoulders.”

“You’ll find out what’s on board the Andromache soon enough.” Alfred smiles, before turning to face the stern, leaving George as infuriated as ever. “Raise the black!”

Just like that, the crew descend into a flurry of activity, as their flag is hoisted and the men begin to ready canons and guns and any weapons they can find, in case the Andromache’s crew decide to put up a little more of a fight.

In the end, it turns out to be surprisingly easy to take her. It seems her crew hadn’t really prepared for the possibility of a pirate attack, and, as a consequence, were almost completely unarmed, brandishing kitchen knives and frying pans, and maybe three pistols among them. For some reason – most likely an inexperienced captain – they had chosen to fight, against their best interests.

Perhaps it was because of the valuable information they were carrying. No captain wants to return to dry land and admit that they gave up such precious cargo without a fight. This captain seems to have decided that death would be an easier fate than shame.

Alfred only really feels sorry for the crew. He strides along the deck, taking in the bloodied and mangled corpses left behind in the wake of the massacre. A pity, really– some of the men could have become good sailors under his employ, if they’d chosen to surrender. England must be running a fierce campaign against them.

“How many men did we lose?” Alfred turns to George, who’s been trailing behind him since the fight ended.

“Just two, both new hires unfortunately. First timers.”

Alfred purses his lips. “Either of them have wives? Children?”

“Not that I know of.” 

“That’s good, I suppose. We’ll bury them tonight; can you see to the arrangements?”

“Of course.”

“Anything else?” Alfred asks, itching to escape these formalities.

“3 men seriously injured.”

Alfred nods. “That’s not so bad. Are they being taken care of?”

“Brodie’s seeing to them, reckons they should make it back to Nassau. We’ll have to pay for the doctor though.”

Alfred curses under his breath, before rubbing a hand over his forehead and through his hair. “Nothing we can’t handle, right Georgie? Once we get our hands on everything this ship has to offer, we’ll have no need to worry about paying doctors and crew.”

“I’m not sure the Andromache is loaded well enough for that, Alfred.” George rolls his eyes.

“A little optimism never hurt anyone. Besides, it’s not cargo we need, George, it’s information. And I know just where it’s hidden.”

“You sound like a madman, Alfred.” George frowns a little.

Alfred smiles. “Just you wait, Georgie. Can you handle things here?”

George shakes his head a little, as though he can’t quite believe his brothers antics. “Whatever you need, Captain.” 

Alfred leaves George in charge, shooting him one last grin and making a beeline for the captain’s quarters. He’s expecting a bit of a mess, perhaps a crewmember or two cowering below deck in the hopes of avoiding the bloodshed, or left behind to destroy valuable information.

He’s most definitely not expecting to encounter a woman, perhaps no older than 20, cowering in the corner, hunched over the captain’s log.

Alfred’s hand twitches towards his cutlass. He doesn’t want to kill her, but if she’s going to cause trouble for him then he might be forced to.

“Stay back!” The woman yells. “You’re here for this, are you not?” She gestures to the captain’s log. 

Alfred weighs his options and settles for nodding silently.

“I’ve destroyed the information you’re here for. You could check every page of this book and you wouldn’t find it, which means you’ll need to keep me alive.”

“And why is that?”

“Because every last detail is right here inside my head.”

The poor woman looks terrified, but Alfred has to give her credit, it’s a bold move, and a smart one at that. She also seems to be holding her own remarkably well, even if she does look as if she might faint if he got any closer.

“You will return me to land unharmed, and if you do so swiftly then I shall consider giving you the information you seek, when provided with generous compensation for my trouble, of course.” She tilts her head up. Clearly she is a woman of high society of some sort, and a well-educated one too, though Alfred wonders what mystery forces have brought her to take to the seas. He cannot help but be impressed by her bravery.

“And what is to stop me torturing you for the information instead?” Alfred stares her down, as though he is attempting to pin her to the wall with his eyes. He likes it better when she’s afraid, and he is still firmly in control of the situation.

The woman’s lip trembles, and she looks as though she might burst into tears, but she stands her ground. “You don’t look as though you want to do that, and I pride myself on being an excellent judge of character.”

“You don’t know anything about me.” Alfred’s lip curls into a snarl, hand twitching again towards his cutlass instinctively.

In an instant, the woman pulls a dagger from a small belt around her waist, and places the blade against her own throat. “If I die, you will never get the information you’re looking for. I suggest you make a decision, and make it quickly. I will not be tortured by you.”

Alfred can see her hand trembling, yet something in her eyes assures him that, if it came to it, she would slit her own throat without hesitation. “Well then, I suppose we have a deal.” 

The woman’s body seems to sag with relief as she drops the knife from her throat, sliding it back into its scabbard. It appears she had expected a rather different outcome.

“Do you have a name, then?” Alfred watches her pull herself to her feet and attempt to walk across the room with a semblance of dignity.

“Wilhelmina Coke.” The woman replies. “And what am I to call you?”

“Captain Pelides.” Alfred sees her face blanch as she takes in his name, practically hears the thoughts rushing through her head as she connects his reputation with the man stood in front of her. “You’ve heard of me, then?” Alfred chuckles. 

He sees her hand settle again on the knife tucked into her belt. 

“I wouldn’t use that if I were you, Wilhelmina. It’s certainly not in your best interests to try and take me on in hand to hand combat. You may keep it with you, though, if it will bring you some comfort.” Alfred flashes her a mean grin.

Wilhelmina stammers a little, but is interrupted by George’s arrival.

“We’re all finished up, Captain, are you- oh.” George stares at Wilhelmina for a few beats.

“George, this is Wilhelmina, she will be returning with us as my own personal prize. Could you please ensure the men are aware of this?” 

“They won’t-“

“If they are unhappy with me laying claim to her then tell them I will surrender my share of the profits of this vessel to them. That ought to buy them enough fucks to forget all about her once we’re back on land.” Alfred brushes off his brother’s concerns, while Wilhelmina appears to grow increasingly pale with each passing word.

“Aye aye, cap’n” George tips his hat mockingly. “Did you get what you were looking for?”

Alfred glances briefly at Wilhelmina. “It’s a little more complicated than I anticipated. I think we ought to discuss our next steps. I’ll explain everything properly later, when we’ve a little time alone.”

George’s eyes flicker between Alfred and Wilhelmina as though he’s trying to connect the dots that lead to an explanation. “Of course.”

“How were the takings?” Alfred quickly changes the subject, sensing George’s confusion.

“We’ve taken several barrels of good tobacco, a couple of decent canons, a good deal of rum, and a rather nice stash of gold.”

“Very good, ensure the rum actually lasts the journey back, will you? I’d quite like to greet Victoria with a reasonable haul this time.”

“I’ll do my best.” George nods with a cheeky smile, turning to head back to the crew. The last time their crew had taken rum, they’d arrived in Nassau without a single drop left.

“Remind them that for every drink they have, they get one less fuck back on land,” Alfred calls after him, before turning back to Wilhelmina. “We ought to get going. If you want to make it back to land unharmed, I suggest you stay by my side and do as you are told, when you are told. Are we quite clear?”

Wilhelmina nods quietly, but blanches anew when Alfred produces a bundle of rope and grabs roughly at her wrists.

“I can’t have my men thinking I’m soft, now can I? I will untie you once you are safely inside my cabin.” Alfred ties her wrists as gently as he can, just tight enough to look convincing. “I have no desire to harm you. Just do as I say.”

Wilhelmina glances at him, and then down at her bound wrists. She tests the knots a little, and finds that, while they aren’t uncomfortable, they are firm, and she isn’t likely to be able to escape without help. It appears she no longer has much choice in the matter, so she nods again.

Alfred offers her a tight-lipped smile, before turning and tugging her out of the captain’s cabin and up on deck.

“Welcome aboard the Myrmidon, Wilhelmina.” Alfred glances back at her terrified face as he drags her across to his ship.

 


 

Wilhelmina has made some poor choices in her life.

She’d climbed a tree that couldn’t support her weigh and broke her leg. She’d fallen in love with a man whose heart was set on someone else. She’d agreed to go on a trip to the Americas to visit her uncle. But truly, this was one of the worst choices she’d ever made.

She doesn’t know quite what compelled her to find the captain’s log, to seek out the information she knew was carried aboard this ship, and take it upon herself to memorise it. She remembers her father’s instructions quite clearly. If, by some unlucky coincidence, pirates were to take the ship she was travelling on, she was to surrender immediately and pray to God for mercy. 

And yet, here she was, making bargains with the pirates and placing herself wholly at the mercy of their common decency. And with Captain Pelides, no less, the most notorious pirate known to sail these waters. This is something of a predicament she’s found herself in. 

Still, Captain Pelides doesn’t seem entirely monstrous. There was something in his eyes when he first discovered her; regret, perhaps? For all his threats, he certainly didn’t seem particularly inclined to kill her in cold blood.

Unfortunately, however, while he’s being polite to her for the moment, or at least trying, Wilhelmina is painfully aware of the fact that she has utterly disrupted his plans, and that the information in her head is the only thing currently keeping her alive. That being said, he is being rather courteous, and he’s certainly taking measures to protect her from his crew. It could be far worse, she suspects. Something about him still carries the air of a gentleman, in spite of his dirty face and greasy hair and bloodstained clothes. It is as though he doesn’t quite seem to belong here, somehow.

Still, that doesn’t stop her heart from pounding in her chest as he drags her past hordes of pirates, leering over her with predatory smiles. She tries not to listen to the conversations being whispered around her. She’d rather not hear the unsavoury things the men are whispering about her, the things they want to do to her, if only Captain Pelides was willing to share.

“Through here,” the captain mutters gruffly, tugging her into his cabin, and quickly closing the door behind them. “Bed’s over there, keep quiet and don’t draw attention to yourself.” He gestures vaguely at the corner of the room, before busying himself at his desk, checking maps and papers.

Wilhelmina sits quietly on the edge of the small bed. The mattress is a little lumpy, but it’s better than the bunk she’d been sleeping in on her previous ship. She supposes the captain can afford himself certain luxuries. She wonders if he will talk to her, address her at all, or if she is expected to just sit here quietly until they eventually reach land.

Captain Pelides hardly even glances at her before he strides back out of the room. She hears the click of the lock behind him, and then he’s calling out commands on deck, presumably ordering the men to get moving before another ship comes across them. She fidgets uncomfortably, the rope around her wrists beginning to rub a little as she does. He had yet to make good on his promise to untie her, and, from the sound of things, he wasn’t likely to return anytime soon.

This was likely to be a long and tiresome journey.

Chapter Text

“Where are we going?” Mina’s voice is quiet, tentative even, from the seat next to Alfred in the rickety carriage he’d bundled her onto. 

Alfred glances at her briefly, and offers what he hopes is a reassuring smile. “We’re going to visit a friend of mine.”

“Why?” 

“I have some things to bring them. And we need somewhere private to talk.” God, Alfred hopes that doesn’t sound too threatening. He doesn’t want to scare the poor girl to death, especially not before he gets his information. 

He’d had a quick conversation with George and caught him up on the situation as it stands, and then left his brother to deal with handing over the goods to Victoria and dividing up their earnings among the men. No doubt they would all squander it immediately, either in the brothel or the tavern, though he supposed that would certainly be useful when it came to tempting them back to sea. Nevertheless, he had more pressing issues to deal with.

“We’re here,” Alfred grunts as the carriage rolls to a stop outside a small cottage.

There’s a woman working in the garden, digging out weeds with a small trowel, who stands up when she hears the carriage. She uses her hand to shade her eyes from the sun so she can get a good look at them as Alfred waves over at her, with Wilhelmina hovering awkwardly behind him.

She stares, stood stock still, for a moment, and then, in an instant, she’s running towards them and practically jumping on Alfred, pulling him into a tight hug and burying her face in his shoulder.

“Alfred Paget, you stupid, reckless idiot. You were gone so long I thought you might not come back,” she hisses, pulling back and holding him at arms-length, scanning over his body looking for injuries, which she seems relieved not to find. Wilhelmina notes with interest what Florence calls him. It seems Captain Pelides uses a stage name.

“I always come back.” Alfred teases, a genuine smile playing across his lips. 

The woman flicks him lightly with the trowel she’s still holding. “Not always in one piece. And look at your shirt. It’ll take me a week to get the blood out, Alfred.”

“What can I say, it’s a messy job.” He grins.

The woman laughs, and Wilhelmina can’t help but giggle just slightly. That, it seems, is enough to draw the woman’s attention away from Alfred to her instead. 

Alfred follows her gaze and coughs a little awkwardly. “Florence, this is Wilhelmina. She’s got some very valuable information, and I’d like to ensure she’s safe and comfortable. Wilhelmina, this is my friend, Florence. We’ll be staying with her for a few days.”

Florence cocks her head curiously at Alfred, before quickly appraising Wilhelmina with her eyes. Florence thinks she might vaguely recognise her from some function or another back in London, but from the looks of things Wilhelmina hasn’t a clue who she is, or if she does she’s not letting on. It’s almost certainly for the best, given the state of Florence’s reputation when she left. The poor girl is also looking rather worse for wear, and in desperate need of a good night’s sleep, a bath, and a good meal.

Wilhelmina nods a little uncertainly, and follows Florence, who has turned away from her and grabbed Alfred’s arm, leading him into the house.

“How was your trip? Profitable?” Florence asks as they walk through into the house’s small kitchen.

“Very. I’ve nothing to show for it but the girl, though. I had to give up my share to keep the men happy.” Alfred replies, as though Wilhelmina isn’t even in the room.

“Well that’s very chivalrous of you, Alfred, but chivalry won’t buy bread.” Florence pats his arm, before fetching a few bowls and serving three portions of soup from a pot bubbling gently on the stove.

Alfred chuckles and takes a seat at the small wooden table in the centre of the room. “I’m sure you’ll find a way to make do. And besides, I’m not sure chivalry had much to do with it.” 

“Whatever information she has must be very valuable.” Florence glances at Wilhelmina as she sets the three bowls on the table. “Please, have a seat. If his crew are anything like they were when I last sailed with Alfred, you won’t have had a decent meal since they boarded your ship.”

Alfred has already set about wolfing down his food, mopping up the soup with a hunk of bread. “Eat. You’re no good to me if you starve to death,” he grunts around a mouthful of food.

“Do you have to be so coarse, Alfred? Where on earth are the good manners you had when we first met?” Florence sighs as she takes a seat herself and begins to eat with all the manners of a refined lady. Alfred makes a point of straightening up and taking his elbows off the table as he finishes the rest of his meal, which earns him a small smile from Florence.

Wilhelmina hesitates a little, before taking the last remaining seat at the table and tentatively beginning to eat the food in front of her. It’s good, some kind of vegetable soup. It’s possibly the best meal she’s had since before she left home for her trip to the Americas. 

Alfred fidgets a little in his seat once he finishes his meal, and opens his mouth as if he’s about to speak.

“There’s more on the stove,” Florence says before Alfred even has to ask.

He gets up without speaking and serves himself another portion of soup. “What’s the occasion? You can’t have known I’d be back today, and I doubt you could eat all that soup by yourself.” Alfred smiles at her as he returns to the table.

“The pastor came by for tea this morning and mentioned that there was a ship coming in. I decided to be a little optimistic. I was going to invite the Wheelers for dinner if it wasn’t you.”

“The Wheelers?” Alfred cocks his head.

“They live next door. Believe it or not, I am not entirely isolated out here. Though they do judge me a little, they think I am a pirate’s whore. I suspect I am Mrs Wheelers’ charity case in all honesty.” Florence rolls her eyes, and Alfred chuckles lightly.

Alfred snorts. “A pirate’s whore. Can you imagine that, Florence?”

Wilhelmina’s eyes flicker curiously over the two of them, as though she is trying to fathom their relationship. Not siblings, clearly, but not lovers either, and yet the familiarity between them is unnerving, far more than would be considered acceptable between a man and a woman. And then there is the matter of their mannerisms, which seem to be those of the upper class, and yet one is a pirate, and the other his dependant.

“What brought you to Nassau, Florence?” Wilhelmina asks. The woman’s name feels foreign in her mouth given their lack of familiarity, but Alfred hadn’t given a surname for her to use.

For a moment, Florence looks a little shocked when Wilhelmina suddenly speaks, and then her question seems to register, and a curtain seems to fall across her face, her expression glazed over with a mask of good manners.

The tension in the room is practically palpable as Florence sets her spoon back in her bowl. “The death of my late husband. Alfred is an… an old friend. He offered to take care of me, and brought me here to ensure my safety.”

“I’m sorry for your loss. I didn’t mean to call up bad memories.” Wilhelmina smiles weakly, before turning back to her soup, as though Florence’s response hadn’t just raised more questions than it had answered.

“It was a long time ago,” Florence says. Wilhelmina can’t quite work out what she means by that, who she is attempting to placate. 

She can’t help but feel there’s far more that Florence isn’t revealing. Maybe it’s the way Alfred’s jaw is set tensely, or the way Florence has abandoned her half-finished bowl of soup and is now picking absent-mindedly at a slice of bread, or the way the two of them seemed to have instinctively leaned away from each other. 

“Wilhelmina.” Alfred’s voice snaps her out of her reverie. “When you’ve finished, would you care to make good on your end of the bargain?” He slides a quill and a scrap of paper over to her expectantly.

“Alfred, do not pressure the poor girl. I’m sure she’s been through quite enough,” Florence scolds, but Wilhelmina nods quickly, not wanting to irritate him further, and pushes her bowl away, picking up the quill and beginning to write down the information she had committed to memory.

She spends several minutes writing, ensuring absolute accuracy, under Alfred’s careful scrutiny until, satisfied, she passes the paper back to him. 

“What on earth is that, Alfred?” Florence stares over his shoulder.

“Coordinates.” Alfred replies as he inspects Wilhelmina’s careful writing.

Florence’s entire body tenses. “For what?”

“For an English treasure galleon carrying five million pounds worth of gold.” Alfred’s face pulls into a frown as he studies the information. 

Florence closes her eyes and purses her lips. “Alfred, may I have a word?” She glances quickly at Wilhelmina. “In private?”

“Just a minute,” Alfred replies, before turning to Wilhelmina. “Where’s the rest of it?” 

Wilhelmina tilts her head up and tries to look powerful. “What’s to stop you killing me if I give you all the information now? What’s more, I’d like a cut of all this gold, and you certainly won’t give it to me if you already have what you want.”

“And how am I supposed to get the other half?”

“You will take me with you. I will give you the rest of the information when you need it.”

Alfred can’t help but grin just a little. “You may be a pain in my backside, Wilhelmina, but you’re smart, I’ll give you that. You’ve got yourself a deal.” He holds out his hand, and, after a brief hesitation, Wilhelmina shakes it with a small smile. “We’ll have to sort out your look, though. You’d be best off if you look like a man, then the crew will give you less trouble. We’ll have to cut your hair of course-“

“Alfred!” Florence interrupts firmly. “A word. Now.”

Alfred purses his lips, before standing up and following Florence to the bedroom. He already knows exactly what she has to say.

“Are you out of your mind, Alfred? A fucking treasure galleon?” she snaps, glaring at him from across the room.

“Florence, we’ve been working towards this prize for months. Taking the galleon will be a blow to England, it’ll keep the men happy, it will set you up nicely. No more living hand to mouth, Florence, you could actually live here.”

“I don’t want to live here, Alfred, I want to go back to London, back to my life. And as for your vendetta against England, aren’t you tired? Of fighting them? Of trying to get revenge? It’s been 6 years, Alfred. It’s time to move on.”

“Don’t you dare tell me to move on, Florence, don’t you fucking dare.” Alfred snaps.

“Well then when does this end, Alfred? All this pointless revenge, all this fighting, on and on and on, and what will it do? It won’t bring him back, Alfred. Do you understand me? He is dead, and no amount of revenge will ever fill that hole in your heart that he left behind. You need to stop this, before it’s too late.”

Alfred shakes his head with a small smile. “The only thing keeping me on this earth is the fact that the men that did this still sit comfortably in their homes with their wealth and their power. They took everything from me, destroyed the only thing I ever loved, and you expect me to give in quietly? To apologise to them? To bow my head and kiss their shoes?”

Florence rubs a hand over her forehead, staring down at the ground. “I just want you to stop this ridiculous game, Alfred. He wouldn’t want this. You know he wouldn’t.”

Alfred bites his lip for a moment before he replies. “Well, he isn’t here anymore, is he.”

“Alfred, you may not remember, but I lost him too that day.” Florence stares him down. “I lost my husband, my home, my security, my reputation, my life, and if you stay on this path-” Florence’s words choke off in a small sob. “I fear I might lose you as well.” 

Alfred shrugs. “I’m tired of living without him, Florence.”

Something about Alfred’s words burrows under Florence’s skin, making her burn with anger. “Oh to hell with you, Alfred! If you want to die so badly then why not just turn yourself in for execution? England would have a whale of a time hanging you.” Florence snaps.

Alfred grits his teeth. “I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction.”

“Well, if that doesn’t suit you then there are plenty of other choices. Why not slit your wrists, jump into the ocean with rocks tied around your ankles? Maybe you could hang yourself with your bedsheets, lord knows that worked just fine for Edward!”

Alfred storms towards her, hand instinctively grabbing for her throat as he backs her towards the wall. “How dare you.”

Florence grins wildly at him. “Go on then, Alfred, kill me why don’t you. By all means, prove to me that nothing remains of the man you were before, show me once and for all that the man Edward loved no longer exists.” Her words are harsh, choked out, her eyes boring into Alfred’s soul with their intensity. 

As though he’s suddenly returned to his body and realised what he’s doing, he drops his hand and stumbles backwards away from her. He looks utterly horrified by his own actions.

Florence rubs at her neck gently, as she gasps a little for air. “I suggest you leave, Alfred, and take Wilhelmina with you on your ridiculous treasure hunting revenge mission. You’ll need to find somewhere to stay in town, or return to your boat.”

Alfred nods sharply, all the emotion seeming to have drained out of him as he turns to leave the room.

“Alfred,” Florence calls after him, prompting him to turn back and face her. She draws herself up to her full height and squares her shoulders. “If Edward were here, he would be ashamed of the man you’ve become.” 

Alfred sets his jaw, and storms out of the room without looking back.

Chapter Text

“Alfred!” George muscles his way through the crowd of crewmembers gathering on deck to where Alfred is standing in front of them. “What’s happening, what are you doing?” He whispers.

“I’m filling them in on our plans. We’ll be setting sail within the next few hours, so the chance of the news spreading to other crews is slim, and even if it did they wouldn’t have the information. It’s time we told our men what they’re up against.” Alfred grins. 

“Is this wise? Wouldn’t it be better to wait until we’re at sea?” George hisses, eyes darting back towards the waiting crowd, who are beginning to murmur amongst themselves.

“That is a cowards move, and everyone on this ship knows it. If I do that, I let the men think I am afraid of them leaving, and I tell them that I don’t have faith in them to stay,” Alfred says.

George clenches his jaw, but he knows the look on Alfred’s face, and knows there’s no way to persuade him otherwise. He wonders if this unflinching determination has anything to do with the fact that Alfred has been sleeping aboard the Myrmidon for the past few nights and not at Florence’s house. Whatever happened there, it had only hardened Alfred’s resolve.

“It’s high time I was honest with you,” Alfred addresses the crew. 

The murmur that ripples through the crew is loud enough to make George nervous, but Alfred stands his ground.

“I have kept certain information from you to prevent it spreading to other crews, information concerning our next prize, and the reason we chased down the Andromache.”

“You don’t trust us to keep our mouths shut?” A voice from the crowd pipes up, followed by a soft rumble of agreement from the other crewmembers. 

Alfred turns to see Billy, a rather intimidatingly built but horrifically unattractive fellow, pushing his way to the front and pointing an accusing finger at him. Billy has never really trusted Alfred - probably something to do with his swift rise to power, his noble brith, and his remarkable ability to sway a crowd. That, and the fact that Billy has always wanted Alfred’s captaincy.

“It is not you I don’t trust, but the women in the brothel who are perfectly positioned to steal information from you when your guard is lowered and sell it on to the highest bidder. I merely meant to protect all of our best interests.” Alfred is calm in the face of Billy’s challenge, and it seems to George that he had prepared for this outcome.

For the most part, the crew seems won over, or at the very least placated, which only serves to intensify Billy’s glower as he backs off, knowing he won’t be supported in this matter.

“We have been chasing information, which I was able to obtain on board the Andromache. This information I have found will lead us to an English treasure galleon carrying five million pounds worth of gold. This will not be an easy prize to take, she will be well armed, and we will need all the manpower we can muster to take her, but with her gold, each and every one of us could set ourselves up for a lifetime.” Alfred lays it on thick, doing his very best to entice even the most doubtful of crewmembers, and it works for most. All but one, in fact.

Billy folds his arms across his chest and steps forward until he’s level with Alfred, turning to face the crew and delivering his response like a captain, and not a boatswain. “Are we supposed to just take your word for it? You told us the Andromache was loaded too, but I barely had enough to make it through to today. How are we to know you’re not just trying to fool us all over again?”

There are a few whispers among the men, and George feels his stomach drop. It’s a wonder, really, how quickly crowds can turn, and he would hate for this orderly crowd to descend into a mob, whipped into a frenzy by a boatswain like Billy. 

“Yet another reason why I waited so long to tell you. I wanted to ensure my information was correct, check my sources, verify my coordinates.” Alfred pulls a small piece of paper from his belt. “I have here the route plans for our treasure galleon, the Ilium, carefully checked and plotted on maps. Our course is set, if you agree to this, and I have already made plans with Victoria Hanover to arrange for another boat, armed with the best canons she can get, and some extra men, all of which is being prepared as we speak, in exchange for a cut of the gold.”

“So you plan on reducing the share of the gold that goes to your hard-working crew?” Billy turns on him, smiling like he’s found the perfect loophole to lead him to victory, before he turns back to face the crew. “How likely do you think it is that his cut will decrease like ours? Think about the girl he took from the Andromache – our Captain serves no one but himself. What’s to say the Ilium even exists, or that she is carrying all that gold? For all we know, this is some petty revenge mission. He has been stealing gold from us, duping us into following his every whim-”

“Now now, let us talk like men, Billy. You understand that such accusations are very serious?” Sensing the ever-worsening mood among the crew, George decides that now is as good a time as any to intervene, before things escalate further. 

“I do.” Billy nods.

George glances at Alfred, who looks almost content, like this is how he planned on things working out. “You understand that theft is punishable by death, and that false accusations warrant the same punishment?”

Billy stares at Alfred’s ridiculously serene expression, before nodding. “I do.”

The crew has gone utterly silent all of a sudden, all waiting in anticipation of what might happen next.

“And do you stand by your claim?” George asks, his palms beginning to sweat. He really wishes his stupid brother would bloody do something before he gets himself killed.

Billy goes to speak, most likely to agree, but Alfred interrupts him just in time. George has to bite back a sigh of relief.

“I would think very carefully about your next choice, Billy. I can provide the men with the coordinates for the biggest prize they will see in their lifetime, the final location of which is known only to me. I can offer them wealth beyond their wildest imaginings. What can you offer, beyond an angry speech?” Alfred speaks calmly and quietly, his voice just hushed enough that his words can only be heard by Billy and George.

Billy splutters slightly, but makes no attempt at replying.

“Who do you think the men would side with?” Alfred looks him directly in the eye, until eventually Billy blinks and looks away, at which point Alfred turns to address the crew again. “For those of you who have your doubts, I am willing to offer you collateral: if my information proves incorrect, I will willingly step down as captain, and will leave this crew altogether.”

The way Billy’s ears prick up in interest is practically audible, and, luckily, it’s noticeable enough to draw attention away from George’s panic. 

“I have made my case, and laid out my terms. I would therefore like to put this to a vote. Those in favour?”

The chorus of ‘aye’s is practically deafening – it proves difficult to spot a man not in favour of this new plan among the crew. Even Billy has given his approval, though his motives may not be entirely good. George doesn’t think he’s ever seen such a unanimous vote before. 

“Well then, I say we set sail as soon as our sister ship is ready.” Alfred speaks smoothly, as though he is utterly unshaken. Neither joy nor concern seem to taint his expression. George finds himself rather disturbed by it. “We shall be sailing alongside the Deidameia. I propose that George be placed as her captain to lead her in my absence. Are there any objections?”

Billy shuffles his feet a little, but it’s clear he isn’t about to put himself forward – he’s waiting for someone else, one of his followers, to speak out on his behalf, but the crew remains silent. George swallows; he’d managed to keep himself out of Billy’s sights and safely in his favour thus far. It looked like that would no longer be the case.

“Excellent. Back to work then. We’ve plenty to do before we set sail, and time is of the essence!” 

And with that, Alfred begins barking orders, directing men to go to the Deidameia and have her ready to set sail, and some more to load supplies onto the Myrmidon, and more still to go to Victoria and tell her of their plans to depart imminently. In fact, he is so preoccupied that it takes George some time to track him down back in his cabin making final preparations.

He’s sat at his desk when George walks in, quill in hand, copying out information from the looks of things. 

Alfred looks up with a small smile when he hears the door close behind George. “Ah, there you are. I was just writing out the coordinates for you. Only the first half I’m afraid.” 

George blinks, and then stares blankly at him for a second. “Have you gone absolutely insane?”

Alfred sighs. “Now don’t be like that, Georgie.”

“That confrontation with Billy almost got you killed. And as for laying your captaincy on the line-“ George turns to begin pacing as he speaks, but stops dead when he spots a woman, perched somewhat awkwardly on Alfred’s bed. 

Her hair is cropped, and she’s wearing men’s clothes, but she’s most definitely a woman.

George turns back to Alfred with an expression of absolute resignation. “Who the fuck is she?”

“You remember our friend from the Andromache with the information? Unfortunately, this was part of her terms, to ensure she gets her cut of the money. We need her on hand to provide the other half of the information as well.” Alfred seems impossibly relaxed given the circumstances.

“Bad luck to have a woman on a ship. What’re the men going to do when they find out?” George rubs his temples absent mindedly. Alfred’s antics are giving him something of a headache.

“I don’t plan on them finding out, but she has a disguise prepared, in case it proves necessary.”

“Her disguise is about as transparent as the window behind you, Alfred.” 

“Well then I’ll simply have to remind the men that the information she carries in her head is far more valuable than luck.” Alfred huffs, before turning back to his papers and picking up the one he’d been working on when George arrived. “The coordinates,” he says, handing it over. “We’ll rendezvous when we reach this point and I will provide you with the rest of it.”

George takes the paper and glances over it, before nodding. He stares at Alfred silently for a few beats before he speaks. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

“Have I ever let you down before?”

“Yes. Several times. That’s hardly reassuring.” George presses his eyes shut in frustration. “There’s only so much protection I can give you, Alfred. If the crew turn against you it is my duty to stand by them.”

Alfred smiles sadly, before standing and walking around the desk. “I know, Georgie, and I know you’ll do the right thing if it comes to it. But believe me when I say that everything will be just fine.”

George swallows and nods, pressing his lips into a tight line. 

“Now, I do believe you have a ship to sail. I think you ought to get going so we can set sail before midday.” 

George nods again, and turns to leave, but he can’t help but hesitate at the door, turning to look back at his brother. “Just… be smart, okay?”

Alfred smiles just a little. “I’m always smart.”

“You know what I mean, Alfred, be safe.”

Alfred nods. “I promise.”

George glances back at him once more, before ducking out of the cabin and heading back to his own ship.

 


 

Wilhelmina paces the length of the room. She’s beginning to regret demanding to be brought on board, if only because Alfred is an absolutely dreadful host. She is forced to remain cooped up in his tiny cabin, though she will admit that it is for her own safety, and, what’s more, Alfred doesn’t even provide her with any means for entertaining herself. 

He hardly even speaks to her, other than when he brings her her meals, and when she asks him a direct question. He’s really a rather peculiar character, in all honesty. He has all the manners of a well-bred gentleman, though he appears somewhat selective about when he chooses to use them, and yet here he is, the most feared pirate captain to sail the seven seas. The two hardly seem to correlate. What cause could a rich gentleman have to take to piracy?

His habits are rather peculiar too. He spends his free time below deck with her, though it is certainly not because he enjoys her company, in fact she thinks he quite detests her, and he appears to read the same book constantly, starting it from the beginning once he has finished it. 

Wilhelmina, having reached ridiculous new levels of boredom, decides it’s high time she found out what on earth this book was, and why it seemed to be so important. She hadn’t been able to make out the title, but it had looked expensive, bound in leather and decorated with fine painting and gold leaf. Perhaps it might reveal more about his character, and help her decode the enigma that was her captor-saviour-partner. 

She listens carefully for a moment to the noise above deck, and, confident that he wouldn’t be returning for some time, crosses the room to examine his bookshelf. 

For the most part, it is stacked only with captain’s logs, both from this ship and from others, presumably kept as trophies by which to remember his prizes, but as her thumb skims across the spines of the books she comes across the one she is looking for.

The Iliad, it reads, in fine gold lettering down the spine. Further proof, she supposes, of his noble birth. She suspects not many of his pirates have had a good enough education to warrant their knowledge of the ancient classics. She smiles a little as she pieces together the book in Alfred’s cabin with the name of his ship and his, presumably, adopted nickname. 

She carefully lifts the volume from the shelf and inspects the fine details on the cover, tracing the pad of her finger over the leather. It is a gorgeous book, and it looks so out of place in the cabin of a pirate ship. Wilhelmina wonders if perhaps it is a token from his life before piracy. 

She flips it open absent-mindedly, and tells herself she is merely interested to see if Alfred reads it in the original Greek or not. As it turns out, he does not, but that is far from the most interesting thing she finds when she opens the book. 

On the title page, in neat handwriting, is a short message. 

Alfred, 

My truest love, stay brave.

Forever yours,

E. D.

Wilhelmina stares at the message, and reads over it again. Her mind skips back to the conversation she had listened to between Alfred and Florence, the one she wasn’t supposed to have heard. It seemed entirely possible that this E. D. could be the Edward that Alfred and Florence had been talking about.

And so the plot thickens, Wilhelmina muses. Each time she thinks she might be closer to understanding who Alfred is, he finds some new way to elude her understanding. 

Unfortunately, Wilhelmina is far too lost in thought to hear the footsteps approaching the cabin, until Alfred is snatching the still-open book from her hands. 

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” 

Wilhelmina utterly freezes at the sheer rage in his voice. She hasn’t seen him this angry before, not even when he dragged her away from Florence’s house after their fight.

“I let you into my cabin, I keep you safe here, and you go rifling through my belongings, taking things that don’t belong to you? Do you know what the punishment for theft is aboard this ship?”

“I meant no harm, I was just looking for something to read.” Wilhelmina manages to find her voice, and gets enough control of her legs to take a step back. 

Alfred seems to catch himself before he replies, like he’s noticed that his anger seems somewhat irrational in Wilhelmina’s eyes, and takes a step back. “I have plenty of other books. If you would like, I can leave some out for you, to save you the hassle of going through my personal belongings.”

Wilhelmina knows she’s playing with fire by poking, yet again, at what seems to be such a sensitive subject, but curiosity gets the better of her. “I was rather hoping I’d be able to read that one. I have a great fondness for the classics.” 

Alfred bristles. “You will not touch this book again, Wilhelmina, or so help me God, I will not be able to keep myself from harming you. You can still give me the coordinates without a hand.”

Wilhelmina tries to hide the way she flinches at the harshness of his words. She doesn’t doubt that he is entirely serious. “It must be a very important book.”

Something in Alfred seems to deflate, and, behind perfectly guarded eyes, she sees something akin to pain. “It was given to me by a dear friend who… who passed away. It is immensely personal, and I would thank you to leave it alone.” 

Wilhelmina frowns a little. It is as though Alfred cannot decide which man he is, the pirate, or the gentleman, and has instead settled for swinging wildly between the two on a whim. 

As if on cue, Alfred seems to return to himself, glaring at her as he tucks the book back on the shelf, before throwing another book somewhat carelessly at her and striding out of the cabin, locking the door firmly behind him.

Wilhelmina shakes her head, as though trying to recover from the whiplash of Alfred’s mood-swings, before looking down at the book he had thrown at her. 

The Iliad, in the original Greek. She can’t help but laugh a little.

Chapter Text

The next few days are relatively peaceful, or at least as peaceful as it is possible for a pirate ship to be; the wind seems to favour them, they don’t pass many other ships, and they’re currently on track to beat the Ilium to her destination, as far as Alfred can discern from the half of the information he’s been given.

If they do pass other ships, they sail by quietly, ensure the black is lowered, and hope the ship they’re passing doesn’t look too closely. There’s no need to pick a fight when they have their sights set on a bigger prize.

When the Scamander appears on the horizon, the expectation among the crew is that they will do the same, and, as far as Alfred is concerned, they will. That is, until, he recalls a name he saw in passing in the captain’s log from the Andromache, a name connected with the Scamander.

Before he can stop himself, he’s rushing below deck and grabbing the Andromache’s log from the shelf in his cabin, rifling through it until he finds one of the earlier entries. 

Sir Peel will be sailing for Charlestown aboard the Scamander. We are to meet him there with cargo.

He spends a moment thinking, considering the path of the ship. Given her current direction, it makes sense for the Scamander to be headed for Carolina, and it would therefore make sense for the Andromache’s captain’s information to still be true.

Before Alfred can even properly mull it over, he’s on deck commanding that the men prepare for an attack. He comes up with an excuse about needing the guns and supplies from the Scamander, and manages to blag his way through it convincingly enough that the men are arming themselves and preparing to board her.

The crew of the Scamander do their best to put up a fight, but it appears that, given their distinct lack of cargo, they weren’t expecting to be a potential victim, and she falls easily with no losses and minimal injuries on the behalf of Alfred’s crew.

Alfred moves in some kind of white-hot rage, barking orders at his crew to move the supplies between ships in an attempt to validate his pursuit of the Scamander, and then stalks below deck to the bunks. He finds Peel waiting almost expectantly for him.

“Cowering below deck?” Alfred sneers.

“Alfred Paget. Should’ve known you’d come for me one day.”

Alfred resists the urge to kill Peel on the spot. “I go by Pelides now.”

Peel snorts disbelievingly. “You expect me to believe you’re Captain Pelides? He only started appearing some 5 months after you left us.”

“I’m a persuasive man.” Alfred rests his hand on the hilt of his sword, but Peel seems utterly unfazed.

“Believe me, Paget, I know. I lost a perfectly good secretary to your ‘persuasions’.” Peel sneers at him.

Alfred narrows his eyes. “You didn’t ‘lose’ him, Peel, you tossed him away like garbage, locked him up and left him for dead.”

“I wasn’t to know that he would turn to self-slaughter. I expected to have him out of there once he had been… reformed.” 

Alfred flinches at the way the words roll off of Peel’s tongue. He draws his sword.

“Tell me, Paget, how does your turn to piracy tally up with the plans your dearest Edward spent years concocting for his precious Nassau?” Peel glances briefly at the sword Alfred is now brandishing, before fixing his eyes on Alfred’s face. 

“Edward Drummond died the moment you locked him in that wretched place, along with everything he stood for.” Alfred moves slowly towards Peel, who backs away in spite of himself. “Alfred Paget died that day too, Sir, and from his ashes I rose. You shall rue the day you killed the one man keeping me from tearing you to pieces with my bare hands.” 

“Such a shame, the Drummond I knew frowned upon the cold-blooded murder committed by pirates. I expected better of you.” Peel’s words fall on deaf ears.

Alfred smiles grimly. “I’m afraid this is goodbye, Peel. Some men simply aren’t fit for our society.”

And then he cuts Peel’s throat, does it slowly so he’ll feel it, watches him fall to his knees, clutching at his throat as though he can stem the blood flow. He watches the light fade from his eyes as he slumps to the ground, watches the blood pool around him on the floor, and then turns around to leave the body behind.

 


 

 

Wilhelmina has settled into a routine of sorts on Alfred’s ship.  Each morning, he wakes her up as he stomps around the cabin, he’ll bring her some breakfast, leave out a book for her to read while he works above deck solving problems and plotting their course. At some point he’ll bring her some dinner, and he’ll sit with her while he writes what she assumes is the Captain’s log, or reads the Iliad. Eventually, when they both tire, she takes the bed, and he sleeps on a makeshift pallet nearby. 

She’s tried talking to him, making conversation over dinner to alleviate the tediousness of hours spent in silence, but he appears reluctant to give any more away about himself. Alfred remains, therefore, a peculiar enigma that she cannot, for the life of her, decipher. 

When he launches an attack on the Scamander in the name of supplies, she frowns, because she’s seen Alfred’s numbers, had snuck a peek at them while he was working, and she knows he has more than enough guns and rations to take the Ilium with ease. When he returns to his quarters soaked with blood, it’s not hard to make an assumption. A revenge mission, she presumes.

And so the plot thickens.

Before she can ask him about it, she feels the rocking motion of the Deidameia being pulled up alongside them, and sound of boots hitting the deck. George storms into Alfred’s cabin hardly 30 seconds later.

“What the fuck was that Alfred?” He whisper-yells, presumably to keep the rest of the crew from hearing. “You and I both know we don’t need supplies, so do you feel like catching me up on why the hell you veered off course without so much as signalling to me to let me know what the fuck was going on?”

Alfred slumps into the chair at his desk and wordlessly hands George the Andromache’s captain’s log, open to a page Wilhelmina had taken the liberty of reading in Alfred’s absence. A page noting the presence of Sir Robert Peel on board the Scamander.

“Jesus, Alfred,” George sighs, placing the book back on the desk and rubbing his temples. “He’s dead then?”

Alfred nods, his expression absolutely blank.

“You need to move past this, Alfred, you can’t just go careening around on your revenge missions.” George says, beginning to pace. Either he hasn’t noticed Wilhelmina’s presence, or he doesn’t care. “The crew all think there’s something fishy going on, and thank God you didn’t take any losses because right now you need their full support. We’re trying to pull off the impossible, Alfred, and you are losing support. At this rate they might try and depose you before we even spot the sails of the Ilium on the horizon-“

“I am the captain!” Alfred roars, causing George to stop mid sentence. “I know what is best for my crew.”

“And I am the Quartermaster.” George hisses. “If you really knew what was best for your crew, you would have left that bloody ship alone and kept sailing, instead of eating into our precious time with your petty quest for revenge over something that happened 6 years ago!”

“Fuck you, George.”

George shakes his head and runs a hand through his hair. “We need the rest of the information,” he says after a beat, tactfully changing the subject before things get any worse. Now is not the time to stir up trouble.

Alfred grunts vaguely and gestures in the direction of Wilhelmina, pushing a quill and paper across the desk.

Wilhelmina, sensing the dangerous mood in the room, gets up obediently and quickly scribbles out the final set of coordinates for the Ilium, passing it back to Alfred. Alfred surveys the coordinates quickly, and then copies them out for George. 

“I’ll see you there,” Alfred says, his words sharp.

“See you there,” George echoes, before turning and leaving without a second glance. 

Wilhelmina feels the tell-tale rocking of the boats separating, and then nothing. The room is painfully quiet, and Alfred seems to have disappeared into some kind of trance.

“Who are you fighting for?” she asks, trying to keep her voice soft and gentle in the hopes it might lure him into speaking. 

Alfred turns to her and blinks a few times, as though he had totally forgotten she existed. “What?”

“Who are you doing all this for? I mean there must be some kind of reason. You don’t seem like the kind of man who would slaughter someone in cold blood.”

Alfred lets out a small sigh. “You are far too nosy for your own good.” And far too perceptive, he thinks, but he decides not to feed her ego.

“Edward, is it not?” Mina really shouldn’t ask, knows from overhearing Alfred’s argument with Florence just how sensitive this subject is, knows she now holds no value now that she has surrendered the information, but, as always, curiosity gets the better of her.

Alfred tenses up, and turns to glare at her. “Where did you hear that name?”

“I overheard you and Florence fighting.”

Alfred swallows, as though debating how to answer. “It was a long time ago.”

“Clearly not long enough.” Wilhelmina speaks without thinking, earning another threatening glare. 

“Perhaps you ought to hold your tongue, Wilhelmina.”

“I understand if you don’t want to discuss it, clearly it’s a difficult thing for you to talk about, but I find talking about things that hurt me can alleviate the burden.” Wilhelmina watches Alfred steadily as he avoids her gaze. “And besides, we’ve a long journey still, and I’m running out of books to read. Perhaps some conversation might lift the tension.”

“If you’re so keen on talking, why don’t you tell me something about yourself, and then maybe I’ll consider returning the favour.” Alfred cocks an eyebrow at Wilhelmina, as though he’s challenging her. 

Wilhelmina nods and takes a breath. She supposes she asked for this. “My aunt sent me on a trip to the Americas because she believed my relationship with my friend, Cordelia, was becoming… unwomanly, and she sought to separate us. I was to go and live with my father in New York, where he would, presumably, find me a husband.” Wilhelmina stares down at her hands as she fidgets a little.

“Your aunt sounds like a piece of work,” Alfred says, and Wilhelmina is surprised that he almost sounds friendly.

“In truth, I am quite relieved you picked me up. You may well have saved me from a rather awful life of marriage and motherhood and nothing in between.” Wilhelmina smiles gently at him, and, to her surprise again, he smiles back.

“Happy to be of service.” 

Wilhelmina can’t quite believe how quickly Alfred’s mood seems to have changed yet again. One moment he was ready to strangle her, and the next he is joking with her about her battleaxe of an aunt. She truly isn’t sure she can keep up with him.

“I suppose I owe you an answer,” Alfred sighs a little, settling deeper into his seat.

“You don’t owe me anything.”

“Perhaps not,” Alfred acquiesces, “but perhaps you’re right. Perhaps I have let this go unspoken for too long.” His voice is surprisingly gentle, almost ashamed, as he glances down at his desk. “The man who was on that ship placed a… a dear friend of mine in an institution, which led to his suicide. From that moment on, I vowed eternal vengeance on England for betraying him and leaving him for dead. That’s why I became a pirate, why I do all these atrocious things…” Alfred trails off.

“And Florence?” Wilhelmina prompts. 

“Edward’s wife. I promised I would take care of her. We couldn’t stay in London. Too many people were talking about us, so I swept her away to Nassau, promised her a new life.” Alfred looks utterly haunted. “She hates it here, but we, or at least I, can never go back to England.”

As Alfred speaks, a memory surfaces in Wilhelmina’s mind of conversations years ago, whispered around tea tables. Whispers about Mrs Drummond, about how she had an affair with her husband’s best friend, about how her husband had been driven mad with grief and sent to an asylum, and how Mrs Drummond had fled England with the very same man. It had been quite the scandal.

She frowns a little as she tries to connect the rumours she had heard back then with the story Alfred is telling her now. 

“You never had an affair with Florence?” She asks, despite knowing it to be an impertinent question.

Alfred chuckles a little, but it seems somewhat hollow. “No. That was the rumour they spread, but no. Quite the opposite, in fact.”

Wilhelmina leans in, eager to hear the rest of the story, which she suspects Alfred is about to delve into.

He spots her eagerness, and chuckles again, a little more real this time. “I’ll start from the beginning.”

Chapter Text

7 YEARS AGO

Alfred felt his nerves building as he hovered at the edge of the room. He was no stranger to balls like this, but Admiral Melbourne had assured him that, should he make a good impression, Alfred was almost certain to gain connections which could ensure a future promotion.

Though Alfred was adequately supported by an allowance from his father, he understood that, eventually, his father would pass away, and all of his titles and land would go to Alfred’s eldest half-brother. He doubted his half-brother would continue to give him such an allowance, and, therefore, it was necessary for Alfred to find good employment as a naval officer, and a high ranking one at that. 

Melbourne had disappeared some time ago, but had instructed Alfred to wait where he was while he sought out connections for him. And so, Alfred remained, sipping awkwardly at expensive champagne at the edge of the dance-floor. It really wasn’t his style; he was used to dancing and making witty conversation and charming the ladies, and the gentlemen where possible. But orders were orders.

“You don’t look as though you’re enjoying the party.” A rather handsome and finely dressed gentleman came to stand beside Alfred, offering him a charming smile.

Alfred was somewhat dumbfounded for a moment by the striking beauty of the gentleman speaking to him, taking in delicate features and striking eyes, and a single brown curl just managing to escape the confines of his powdered wig. 

He realised after a moment that he had been silent for just a moment too long. “It’s rather enjoyable, however I’m waiting for Admiral Melbourne, and am therefore unable to join the dancing.”

“Well now that is a shame. Come, we must find him, and then you may properly join the festivities,” the gentleman smiled again, and Alfred couldn’t quite discern whether or not he was being teased. Before he could ask, however, or make any sort of reply whatsoever, the man’s eye shifted quickly to someone behind Alfred’s shoulder. “Speak of the devil, Melbourne, there you are. We were about to send out a searching party.” 

Melbourne chuckled. “I see you’ve found my protégé, Mr Drummond.”

“Now Melbourne, you know you needn’t be so formal with me.” Drummond scolded lightly.

“Please, sir, I insist.” Melbourne’s manners were a little stiff compared with Drummond’s easy charm. “This is Lieutenant Alfred Paget.” 

Drummond’s eyes returned to Alfred, sparkling just a little as they fixed on him.

“I understand you are looking for someone to advise you on the pirate situation in Nassau, and I cannot recommend anyone more highly,” Melbourne continued.

“Is that so?” Drummond appraised Alfred quickly with his eyes, before turning back to Melbourne. “Your word is persuasion enough for me, provided the Lieutenant is willing to take me on.”

Alfred almost blushed as Drummond turned the full weight of his gaze back to him. “Of course, Sir.” Alfred nods politely.

“Now, if this partnership is to work, you must be less formal. None of this ‘Sir’ business.” Drummond’s playful smile returned, and Alfred felt a slight flutter in his chest.

How utterly inconvenient.

“If you insist, S-“ Alfred caught himself, “Drummond.”

Drummond nodded approvingly, but before he could speak again, a woman appeared at his side and placed her hand lightly on his arm. 

“Edward, darling, do you think you could take a break from this political nonsense and spare me a dance?” She draped one hand possessively around his back to rest on his shoulder while the other remained on his arm.

Alfred noted the large ring glittering on her finger, and felt his stomach sink inexplicably.

“I’m afraid I have some things discuss with Melbourne, my dear, but I do believe Lieutenant Paget is in dire need of entertainment. Perhaps he will dance with you.” Drummond eyed Alfred with peculiar intensity, as though carefully measuring his reactions.

“It would be an honour.” Alfred bowed politely to her, and took her hand when she extended it towards him, leading her to the dance-floor and trying to ignore the way he could feel Drummond’s eyes burning into the back of his head.

“I do hope my husband wasn’t boring you. All he seems to want to talk about is pirates.” Mrs Drummond laughed lightly as they began to waltz around the room.

“Not at all, in fact I believe I am soon to be working with him on such issues.” Alfred replied, making an effort to keep his tone light and conversational.

“It is interesting perhaps the first three times he tells you about it, but I am afraid it grows old rather quickly.” Mrs Drummond smiled, the picture of charm and elegance.

“What interests you then, Mrs Drummond? Perhaps I can offer better conversation?” 

“I am quite certain you will have very little to say about embroidery, or painting.”

Alfred chuckled. “No, I’m afraid you’re right.” The dance came to an end, and Alfred bowed politely. “It has been a pleasure Mrs Drummond.”

“Florence, my dear, I hope you won’t mind my stealing the Lieutenant from you.” Drummond strolled leisurely towards them, placing a hand on Alfred’s shoulder. Alfred tried not to fixate on it too much.

“You really are a frightful bore, Edward.” Florence teased. “Every time we come to a ball, he promises he will take some time away from working matters, and yet every time I find myself quite abandoned while he hides in corners debating the fate of our country.” Florence turned to Alfred, and laughed delicately as though they were both a part of some conspiracy.

“How dreadful of him, to leave you without a partner,” Alfred said, mimicking her conspiratorial smile. 

“I see the pair of you have teamed up against me.” Drummond smiled good-naturedly.

“I am quite certain you deserve it Edward. But I shall leave you to your pirates and politics. I suspect I shall be seeing a great deal more of you, Lieutenant.” Florence smiled as she left, but Alfred could have sworn there was something behind her eyes, something he couldn’t quite discern. Fear? Concern? He wondered if he was truly so transparent.

“I apologise for dragging you from the party, Lieutenant, but we have much to discuss, and I would quite like to begin immediately.” Drummond’s hand rested heavily on Alfred’s arm still as he led Alfred to a near-empty sitting room just outside the ballroom.

Alfred could not help but notice the feelings stirring deep in the pit of his stomach as Drummond began to chatter animatedly about the situation in Nassau and the damage being caused by pirates to the relatively new economies of the American colonies. 

“Ah, I feel I have lost you already, Lieutenant.”

Alfred blinked twice, pulling himself out of a deep reverie concerning the greenish flecks in Drummond’s eyes and how he wished Drummond would remove that ridiculous wig.

“Not at all, Sir,” Alfred replied, hoping he might be able to recover the situation without Drummond labelling him a simpleton.

“You must stop that. I find all this title business rather tedious, please, call me Edward.”

“I would not want to be impertinent.”

Drummond chuckled, and Alfred relished in the way his eyes lit up, crinkling slightly at the corners. “I believe it is rather more impertinent to continue to call me Sir after my asking you not to.”

Alfred spluttered for a moment or two. “I merely meant that-“

“I understand precisely what you meant. If you would prefer, you may call me Drummond, but, for the love of God, please don’t call me Sir, or anything of the like.”

“Very well, Drummond.” Alfred couldn’t help the small smile that played across his lips.

“And what am I to call you? Would you have me continue to call you Lieutenant?” Drummond teased, sipping from his glass. 

Alfred’s grin broadened. “If it would please you to call me Alfred, then by all means do so.”

“Well then, Alfred, shall we continue where we left off?”

Alfred relished in the sound of his name in Drummond’s mouth. “By all means.”

 


 

“What is the main problem in Nassau?” Edward’s eyes were bright with challenge as he stood and placed his hands on the back of his chair.

Alfred smiled and shook his head a little. “Pirates?”

“No.” Edward grinned as he began to pace the room, gesturing animatedly.

“No?” Alfred couldn’t help but be taken in by Edward’s apparent giddiness. 

“No. They are merely a symptom of other issues.” Edward began to count on his fingers. “Crooked governors, lax law enforcement, poor infrastructure, mass unemployment. The list is endless. The instability caused by these issues is what draws the pirates to Nassau. Do you follow?”

“I do.”

Edward stared at him somewhat quizzically for a moment. “Tell me, Alfred, what do you think would be necessary to solve the problems in Nassau?”

“Aside from removing the pirates?”

Edward’s lips titled up a little in a small smile. “Yes, let’s leave those aside for now.”

Alfred frowned a little, piecing together the thoughts in his head, trying not to dwell on the way Edward’s eyes rested heavily, patiently, on him all the while. “Nothing short of a colony, packaged up onto perhaps three ships with lawmakers, carpenters, farmers, a workforce, and, of course, the first honest governor to set foot in Nassau since her discovery. With all that put together, there’s still the question as to whether it will even take in a place which has resisted all attempts at order in the past,” Alfred said.“Oh, and then there are the pirates we’ve agreed not to discuss,” he added, not missing the way Edward’s lips quirk up into a smile. 

“You seem quite determined that this is impossible.”

“I feel I must be honest with you. I have very serious doubts about whether such a plan is possible. If you would like a liaison who shares your views, I would be more than happy to oblige you in finding a more suitable candidate.” Alfred carefully avoided Edward’s gaze. If he was being entirely honest, he had enjoyed this past week or so working with Edward more than any other experience in the navy, and couldn’t help but pray Edward would not choose to toss him aside. 

“I am not looking for someone to hold my hand, Alfred. I need someone who can help me save Nassau.” Edward walked around his desk and took slow, measured steps towards Alfred.

“And you suspect I am that person? Even when we view the situation so differently?” 

“Because of it.” Edward came to a halt hardly 5 inches from Alfred. “I need someone who will challenge me, pick holes in my plan, find it’s weak points and pull until they unravel. I trust you to be that person.”

Alfred found that his words stuck in his throat a little as Edward stood in such close proximity to him. “Very well, then.”

“Strange partnerships often yield the most marvellous results, Alfred.” Edward grinned at him, as though oblivious to the way Alfred’s heart was pounding. Edward’s fingers twitched just a little, as though they longed to reach out and touch Alfred, to brush his cheek, and trace down to his lips, but they stayed down at his side. “We could be wonderful.”

 


 

“A symptom? My God, Lieutenant, perhaps he truly is mad. Half of parliament seems to think as much already, and they haven’t heard his plan yet.” Melbourne chuckles a little as he sat back in his seat. 

“He’s not mad, he’s remarkably intelligent, and and determined, and wealthy all at once.” Alfred replied, shaking his head a little in disbelief.

“And God help the rest of us.”

“I attended one of his salons, Sir. Half the men in attendance are pretenders playing at radicals, but Edward… When he talks about reform, systemic reform, I truly think he believes every single word. What’s worse, I’m afraid I might be starting to believe it myself.”

Melbourne’s eyes scanned over him. “Edward?”

Alfred realised his mistake, and shifted a little uncomfortably in his seat. “I apologise, Sir, he refuses to acknowledge any formalities, and is most insistent upon the familiar. I am afraid it is something of a habit.” 

Melbourne offered him a sceptical frown by way of response.

“Sir, I know what you’re thinking, but my judgement in these matters remains wholly unclouded by bias.”

Melbourne’s eyes raked over him yet again, before he pursed his lips and stood. “I hope that is the case, Lieutenant.” He nods sharply at Alfred once more, before striding away.

 


 

Edward paced the length of the room three times, before coming to a halt at his desk and moving as if to sit, only to get back up and resume pacing. 

“Christ, Edward, you’re exhausting just to look at,” Alfred settled back in his seat and took a puff on his pipe.

“It’s infuriating, Alfred. How on earth are we to solve the problem in Nassau when we cannot place a single honest governor there?” Edward huffed, before taking his powdered wig off and flinging it haphazardly into the corner of the room. “Ghastly thing, don’t know quite why I bother with it.” He muttered, mostly to himself.

Alfred tried desperately not to focus on the mass of dark curls which had proceeded to fall across Edward’s forehead, mussed up from the wig. “I rather believe the problem is not finding an honest man, Edward, but keeping him honest.”

Edward cocked an eyebrow at Alfred. “And what prevents him from staying honest, in your estimation?”

Alfred shook his head, lips splitting into a grin. “Well, I suppose the Atlantic Ocean.”

“By all means please elaborate.”

“I only mean that if you place a man on an island and give him abundant power, he’ll soon realise that the limits of that power hardly exist, at which point he is certain to exploit it.” Alfred shrugged.

“Well I’m glad to know I’m not only battling pirates but also 4000 miles of ocean and human nature.” Edward slumped into his chair.

“Come now Edward, you can’t be discouraged by what I say now. My advice never swayed you before.” Alfred leaned forwards, setting his pipe on the desk.

“I feel I need some time to regroup, gather my thoughts and the like.” Edward raked a hand through his hair, only serving to muss it up further, before rubbing both hands over his face. Alfred couldn’t help but notice how tired he looked all of a sudden.

“I shall take my leave of you then.”

Edward glanced up at him as though confused. “Why on earth would you do that?”

“I feel some rest might be in order, Edward. You look as though you’ve hardly slept.”

“Nonsense, Alfred, I shall be perfectly able to continue in a few moments.”

Alfred frowned somewhat sceptically. “At least allow me to fetch you some refreshment. Some coffee, perhaps?”

Edward eyed Alfred carefully for a moment before waving his hand. “If that would reassure you then by all means.”

Alfred nodded, before leaving the room in search of someone who might be able to assist him. 

“Ah, Lieutenant,” Mrs Drummond appeared at the end of the hallway. “I thought I heard the door.”

“I was hoping to find some coffee for your husband. He seems a little out of sorts today.”

Florence took his arm and led him downstairs. “He’s been sleeping very poorly these past few nights. His father is coming to visit soon to discuss plans for Nassau. You mustn’t let him know I told you, though, I’m certain he will want to break the news himself.”

“Ah, well that certainly explains his behaviour.”

Florence sighed, before catching the arm of a serving girl on her way to the kitchen. “Hattie, would you be a dear and ask Mrs Gardener to fetch a pot of coffee and bring it back here?”

“Certainly ma’am.” She curtsied, before hurrying on to the kitchen.

“Your presence does him the world of good, Lieutenant.” Florence placed a gentle hand on his arm.

Alfred shook his head with a small smile.

“I quite envy you. I remember when I first met him. That feeling of being in the presence of one of the few truly great men in this world.” 

“Do you mean to say that this feeling fades with time?” 

Florence smiled sadly. “Not at all. But in time it comes to remind you of your own inferiority, and not his greatness.”

Alfred faltered, unsure what to make of her words. As if on cue, the serving girl returned with a coffee pot and two cups on a tray, which Alfred gladly accepted from her, thanking her as he did so. 

“I ought to return, Mrs Drummond.”

“Yes, I suppose you must. The work never ends where Edward is concerned.” Her usual playful smile returned to her face. “If he becomes too insufferable you are always welcome to take tea with me instead.”

Alfred smiled at her. “I shall bear that in mind.”

 


 

“Sir, I know you must think me foolish, but I truly believe that this is the solution we’ve been looking for.” Edward hurried to keep up with Peel’s brisk pace.

“Full pardons for all the pirates of Nassau? Drummond, it’s not merely a foolish idea, it is an insane one.” 

Edward shook his head and quickened his pace again. “I understand, but I don’t believe the pirates are truly the problem, Sir-“

“As you’ve told me before.” Peel interrupted.

“- the lack of infrastructure is what prevents Nassau from flourishing.” Edward ignored Peel’s interruption. “We need a workforce to build that infrastructure. We need carpenters, labourers, farmers, shopkeepers…”

Peel came to an abrupt halt, so quickly that Edward almost walked straight into him. “Drummond, what on earth are you proposing?”

“I am proposing that we pardon the pirates, and give them jobs, well-paid positions, to help raise Nassau to prosperity.” Edward found himself a little breathless as he pitched the idea. He had discussed it with Alfred the previous night and, though Alfred had thought him insane, he had also admitted that it was possible that Edward’s plan might work, which had been all the incentive Edward had needed to bring the idea to Peel.

“You truly have gone mad, Drummond.” Peel shook his head.

“Men turn to piracy because they need an income, an income which Nassau is failing to provide in her current state. If we were to offer them honest positions, I don’t doubt that many of the men would be willing to throw down their swords.” Edward continued in spite of Peel’s apparent disbelief.

Peel stared at him in silence for a few moments before speaking. “Have you discussed this plan with your father?”

“I have not, Sir, but I am dining with him later this week, and I intend to discuss it then.” 

Peel nodded and paused again as though thinking. “If you can convince your father of the viability of this plan, and convince him to secure you the votes, then I will agree to it, Drummond. Those are my terms.”

Edward couldn’t help but grin at his words, in spite of the somewhat grim expression on Peel’s face. “Thank you, Sir. I won’t let you down.”

 


 

Alfred could see Edward’s nerves building in the way his knee bounced up and down, the way his writing was becoming more hurried, the way he had stripped off his coat and waistcoat, the way he kept running his hand through his hair. God, his hair. Alfred still couldn’t quite adjust to seeing Edward without some kind of stupid wig on, as if he wasn’t handsome enough before.

He knew his feelings were wrong, knew that the chances of Edward ever reciprocating such improper sentiments were practically nonexistent. And yet. 

From time to time, something in Edward’s eyes, or in the way he spoke, or the way he stepped a little close to Alfred that would perhaps be considered decent, gave him hope. But hope was for fools who sought to have their hearts broken. 

Alfred shook himself as if to clear the thoughts from his mind, and returned to the matter at hand. “Edward, I feel there is something about tonight’s dinner that you aren’t telling me. It is only your father, he cannot be that terrifying, surely?” 

Edward looked up at him for what felt like the first time in hours, expression blank for a moment as his eyes flickered over Alfred’s face, before the mask seemed to break as he settled back into his seat, setting down his quill with a sigh. “Peel has told me he will only approve my plans if I can convince my father to secure the votes for it. Without his votes, there is no chance of success for this plan.”

Alfred sighed and suppressed the urge to reach out to Edward, to hold him and kiss the top of his head as he reassured him all would be well. “Why didn’t you tell me, Edward?”

Edward shrugged, expression veiled again as he picked up his quill and began to write again.

“Edward,” Alfred said, softly, and this time he did reach out for Edward’s hand, if only to take the quill from him and set it back down. “You have gone over the details of this plan a thousand times.”

“My father is meticulous, Alfred, if he doesn’t dismiss me immediately he will need to dissect every last detail of this plan before he even considers it as a possibility.”

“You have devoted more than enough time to the details. I doubt there is a single speck of dust or grain of sand not accounted for.” Alfred had not drawn his hand back from Edward’s yet, and was almost surprised when Edward moved his hand just slightly to clasp Alfred’s hand in his own.

“Am I making the right choice?” Edward’s voice was so small, as though he had retreated deep into himself. “Perhaps I ought to backtrack and choose a simpler plan and save myself all the hassle.”

“Edward, I think your plan is utterly insane, and I think you’d have to be half-mad to come up with it. That being said, it’s also the most ingenious plan anyone has ever come up with to deal with the pirate problem in Nassau. If you go back on yourself now, you may be more likely to gain your father’s approval, but you will lose my respect. You are a man of conviction, Edward. Do not falter now.” Alfred squeezed Edward’s hand gently. “There will always be other ways to push your plan through. You are not the only one with connections.” Alfred offers a playful grin and watched Edward’s expression shift slowly from one of concern to genuine gratitude. 

“You always know precisely what to say.” Edward smiled, taking his hand from Alfred’s and standing to walk around his desk.

Alfred stood as well, though he couldn’t quite fathom why, as though drawn to his feet by some mythical force, and found himself half-trembling in anticipation as Edward moved towards him. 

Edward lifted his hand to cup Alfred’s jaw, his thumb tracing over Alfred’s cheekbone, then down to his lips. “You are magnificent, Alfred Paget,” he whispered, and for a moment Alfred was almost certain Edward might kiss him.

And then the Florence waltzed into the room.

Alfred was surprised to note that Edward made no attempt to jump away from him, though his hand did drop from Alfred’s cheek to his shoulder, turning to face Florence without even attempting to conceal the intimate moment the two of them had been sharing. 

Florence faltered for a moment, before speaking. “Your father has sent word that he will be arriving shortly. I suggest the two of you make yourselves decent and join me downstairs.”

“Thank you, Florence.” Edward smiled genuinely at her.

Alfred stared between the two of them as Florence nods and leaves the room, trying to figure out the situation. Any other woman would have thrown some sort of fit if she found her husband in such a compromising position with anyone, let alone a man, and yet Florence had hardly even batted an eyelash. 

He wondered briefly if this had happened before, if he was simply another conquest on Edward’s long list. Edward had certainly seemed confident and self-assured when he approached Alfred. And yet. 

There was hardly time for Alfred to gather his thoughts before Edward stepped back and busied himself buttoning up his waistcoat and jacket, and fixing his cravat, which he’d loosened while he fussed over the details in his paperwork. 

Alfred, emboldened by their almost-kiss, stepped forward and picked up Edward’s wig from where he’d discarded it on the windowsill. “Allow me.”

Edward’s eyes locked with his as he took a deep, shuddery breath. “Thank you.”

Alfred guided Edward to sit in his chair, so that he might be able to actually reach the top of his head, and began smoothing back his hair so that the wig would fit easily over the top. He hadn’t missed the way Edward leaned just slightly into his touch. Alfred felt like he was drowning in the moment, surrounded by Edward, as though he was being swallowed up and suffocated. 

He didn’t want it to ever end.

But of course, all too soon, Edward stood up, and gave Alfred one last loaded look, and strolled out of the door of his office like nothing had happened between them. Alfred had to take a moment to press his eyes shut and remember the feeling of Edward’s hair between his fingers before he was able to follow Edward down to greet his father. 

 


 

Edward’s father didn’t look particularly imposing. A little overweight, ruddy cheeked, perhaps the same height as Alfred. And yet there was something in the way he carried himself that warned Alfred of his power to destroy everything he had worked for. Alfred stayed quiet over dinner, and allowed Edward to do the talking. Florence sat across from him in relative silence as well.

Surprisingly, Charles Drummond did not stop Edward immediately. He allowed Edward to pitch his plan in its entirety before he so much as commented on it. He even listened attentively as he ate his soup, which had almost been enough to convince Edward that he had managed to gain his approval. Almost.

“An interesting plan, my boy.” Charles set his spoon down in his empty bowl once he had finished. “I am afraid it is an utterly foolish one, though. It will never see the light of the day.”

“Father, if you would just hear me out-“

“I have heard you out, Edward, and I will not have this plan go any further. I refuse to allow people to think my son a madman, and that is precisely what they will say if you push this further.” Charles gestured to the servants at the corner of the room to have them take his bowl away.

“With all due respect-“

“I suspect what you are about to say will not be at all respectful. I am attempting to save you from destroying your own political career before it has even begun. Peel and I have provided you with an opportunity to make a name for yourself, yet you seek to tarnish it with your wild fantasies of pardoning pirates.” Charles spat.

“Sir, Edward has spent many hours working on this-“ Florence began, but was interrupted just as quickly as Edward had been.

“This conversation does not concern you. You have said quite enough.” Charles snapped, not even looking in her direction.

“I would thank you not to talk to my wife that way, father.” Edward spoke calmly, and Alfred couldn’t help but marvel at how composed Edward was being in the face of his father’s rudeness.

“What do you think of this plan, Lieutenant?” Charles turned to Alfred, as though looking for support. “You have seen Nassau, have you not? Surely you must know as well as I how implausible this plan must be. It must have been quite the ordeal, managing my son’s lunacy.”

Alfred felt the weight of Edward’s eyes sitting on him wondering if Alfred might betray him.

“I have, Sir, and I have been working closely with your son for several months now. I believe Mr Drummond presents a very compelling argument. His plan for Nassau is intelligent and well thought out, and far better than anything any of the other fools in Parliament have been able to come up with. If you are quite through with insulting him then I think it would be wise for you to leave.” Alfred found himself utterly unable to stop the words pouring out of his mouth until it was rather too late, fuelled by Edward’s eyes watching him the entire time. He hadn’t even realised that he had stood up as he spoke until he had finished.

Charles spluttered for a moment or so, before standing wordlessly and storming over to the door. “I have never been thus treated in my entire life,” he called behind him as he left.

Alfred stood, somewhat shell-shocked for a moment or so. Florence refused to meet his gaze as she stared down at the table, apparently just as shocked as he was.

“Did you just tell my father to get out of his own house?” Edward’s lips twitched up in a wry smile. 

“Yes, I believe I did,” Alfred replied, still attempting to fathom what he had just done.

Edward shook his head and chuckled slightly as he stood up, and walked around the table. The moment felt so painfully familiar as Edward closed the distance between them. Like before, his hand came up to Alfred’s cheek, but the slow languidity of the moment was lost as Edward leaned in straight away, allowing their lips to just brush together.

“You truly are a marvel,” Edward whispered against his lips, before leaning in to press their lips together more firmly this time.

Florence sat, somewhat forgotten at the table, watching the exchange unfold. She watched the way Alfred’s eyes fluttered closed, the way he leaned into Edward’s touch, the way he bumped their noses together as he pulled back, eyes still closed. It seemed that he enjoyed Edward’s kisses far more than she ever did. Perhaps she ought to have felt jealous, but truly she felt nothing but hollow. 

 


 

“O dear mother, true! All those burning desires
Olympian Zeus has brought to pass for me —
but what joy to me now? My dear comrade’s dead —
Patroclus — the man I loved beyond all other comrades,
Loved as my own life — I’ve lost him — Hector’s killed him, 
stripped the gigantic armour off his back, a marvel to behold —
my burnished gear! Radiant gifts the gods presented Peleus
that day they drove you into a mortal’s marriage bed.
I wish you’d lingered deep with the deathless sea nymphs,
lived at ease, and Peleus carried home a mortal bride.
But now, as it is, sorrows, unending sorrows must surge 
within your heart as well — for your own son’s death.
Never again will you embrace him striding home.
My spirit rebels — I’ve lost the will to live,
to take my stand in the world of men — unless,
before all else, Hector’s battered down by my spear
and gasps away his life, the blood price for Patroclus,
Menoetius’ gallant son he’s killed and stripped!”

Alfred turned from where he was perched on the edge of Edward’s bed, only half dressed, as the morning light began to filter through the curtains. “Please, Edward, read another passage. I find the death of Patroclus far too tragic to hear this early in the morning.”

“Will you return to bed if I do?” Edward lowered the volume he had been reading from, and nudged Alfred’s back with his toes. 

“Well, I suppose that depends which passage you read,” Alfred replied, already beginning to crawl back up to Edward.

“Which part would you like to hear?” Edward smiled softly as Alfred wriggled in beside him, resting his cheek on Edward’s chest. 

“The beginning of Book 16, when Patroclus begs Achilles to fight.”

Edward chuckled as he flipped through the pages. “That’s hardly less morbid, Alfred.”

Alfred made no effort at a reply, though he did press a gentle kiss onto Edward’s bare chest, before allowing his eyes flutter closed as Edward began to read. He focused less on the words, and more on the sound of Edward’s voice, and the lilt and flow of the poetry. 

Edward looked down and found Alfred had fallen asleep again before Patroclus had even begun to don his armour. He smiled fondly, setting the book back on the table beside his bed and pressing a kiss to the top of Alfred’s head. 

 


 

Florence had no intention of snooping, truly, but when she had seen Edward’s copy of the Iliad, his prized possession, in the guest room Alfred used when his discussions with Edward ran late into the night, she had grown curious.

She ought to have expected it really, ought to have known that there was far more than sexual desire between the two of them, ought to have seen it in the tenderness of their kiss. And yet. 

The message was simple enough.

Alfred, 

My truest love, stay brave.

Forever yours,

E. D.

Perhaps she ought to thank Edward for having been at least somewhat discreet. 

She found herself peculiarly divided upon reading the message, in ways she hadn’t expected. Of course, she had known that Edward and Alfred had begun an affair, and she had been relatively unbothered. She had consoled herself with the knowledge that if Edward was fucking Alfred, it meant he wasn’t fucking her, and she no longer needed to deal with him grunting over her like he was fulfilling his duty. 

But clearly, their relationship was far more significant than that, far more than just fucking. Florence wondered, then, why she didn’t feel more devastated. She was hurt, of course, but more in a sense that she felt replaced, supplanted in her own home, than anything else. Of course, she had known for a long time that Edward didn’t love her, at least not as a husband ought to love his wife, and, if she was honest with herself, she felt much the same.

The feeling of emptiness she had felt the first time she saw them kiss returned with a vengeance as she placed the book back where she had found it. She was not jealous, she realised, but merely lonely, and she suspected there was little Edward could do to remedy that fact. 

 


 

“So,” Florence began, one night, over a silent dinner table. Edward was sat across from her, seemingly engrossed in paperwork. Florence was no fool, she recognised Alfred’s handwriting, and Edward was no good at hiding the smile that crept across his face.

He glanced up at her when she spoke. “So?”

“You and Alfred?” She attempted to smile as though she were making some wry joke.

Edward’s eyes scanned over her expression, his fork pausing halfway to his mouth, still laden with food. He half looked as though he feared some kind of trap. He coughed a little awkwardly, setting down his fork. “Uh, yes.” He replied. Perhaps not his most eloquent moment.

“Are you in love with him?” Florence’s voice came out far more clipped than she had intended. 

Edward winced slightly at her bluntness. “Florence, you know I care for you deeply, you have been my closest companion these past years-“

Florence stared at her plate, cutting up her dinner into small pieces as she interrupted him in an attempt to look nonchalant. “I didn’t ask how you felt about me, Edward.” She set her cutlery down. “I asked how you felt about him.”

Edward pursed his lips for a moment. “I am in love with him.”

“And he loves you?” Florence diverted her attention back to her plate to avoid the way Edward’s eyes watched her every move.

“He does.”

“Then I am very happy the two of you found each other.”

Edward sighed, setting down his cutlery altogether. “Florence-“

“Please don’t, Edward, you needn’t explain yourself.” Florence refused to meet his stare, in case he saw the saw the tears filling her eyes.

“I rather feel I must. Please do not take this as any sort of reflection upon yourself. If I felt any inclination whatsoever towards… towards the fairer sex, I am certain I would be quite smitten with you.” Edward cursed their ridiculously long dining table, wishing he could reach across and take her hand to comfort her. “As it is, I cannot imagine having a better wife, a better confidante, to spend the rest of my life with.

Florence sniffed a little, and Edward was on his feet in an instant, dinner etiquette be damned, crouching at her side and taking her hand in his.

“I truly do love you, Florence.” He pressed a kiss onto her knuckles.

Florence pressed her eyes shut, a few tears spilling down her cheeks. “Not the way I want to be loved.”

“If there are other relationships you wish to pursue-“

Florence made a frustrated noise, snatching her her hand back to wipe furiously at her eyes. “That’s the problem, Edward! There aren’t any! Men line up at balls with the hope of cuckolding you and yet not a single one of them can hold my attention longer than a single dance!”

Edward frowned a little. “I didn’t know you felt this way, Florence, I’m so sorry if I have added to your pain.” 

Florence looked at Edward through tear-filled eyes. Always so kind, so attentive, perhaps he truly had just ruined all other men for her. 

She shook her head, taking Edwards hand in her own again. “It can hardly helped. We don’t choose who we love.” She mustered up a sad smile, which does little to placate him. 

“Florence, if there’s anything I can do-“

“Nonsense, Edward,” She interrupted, before he could reduce her to tears again with his chivalry. “Now finish your dinner. It would be such a shame to waste perfectly good food.”

Edward sighed, but, knowing he would get no more from her, returned to his seat.

Florence chose not to mention the way her gaze couldn’t help but linger on the women at the balls, the way her heart skipped a beat in her chests she took in delicate features and soft curls. She didn’t mention the way their faces appeared in her minds eye when she touched herself late at night, or the shame she felt the next morning. 

She knew, surely, that Edward would have understood, would have known the same feelings, and, no doubt, would not have judged her, and yet she stayed silent. There was no need for her to burden Edward with her own internal crisis when he certainly had enough other things to deal with.

And besides, it was not like she would ever have any cause to act on such thoughts. Whatever she felt, it was useless entertaining any notions of hope. Not to mention the fact that, if she mentioned anything of the sort to Edward, he would make it his mission to find someone for her. Well-meant, perhaps, but rather misguided. 

Were there even other women like her, she wondered as she speared a piece of meat with her fork? Clearly men like Edward existed, and were not too exceedingly rare, but she had never heard of women with same-sex inclinations. Perhaps she was truly an anomaly, a mistake in God’s plan.

Well, it really didn’t do to dwell too much, did it? She chewed on the meat, which was, by now, cold and a little tough, and dismissed all such thoughts.

She and Edward finished the rest of their dinner in silence.

 


 

Alfred hadn’t exactly expected his father to be wildly in support of Edward’s plan. In fact, Alfred didn’t even expect his father to like it all that much, but he had gone to him anyway, when all of Edward’s connections ran dry. His father had not taken it well, much like everyone else.

“Pardon the pirates? Alfred I do believe you’re as mad as he is.” Henry laughed in his face, taking another puff on his pipe. 

“Father, please, if you would just hear him out. I would not come to you with this unless I truly believed it to be a viable plan, you must know that. Edward is a very intelligent gentleman, I do believe you’d rather like him if you met him.” Alfred sat back in his chair and took a sip of the whisky Henry had poured out for him, hoping he sounded more nonchalant than he felt. 

Henry stared Alfred down for a moment or so, eyes tracing over his face as his brow set into a deep frown. “You’re fucking him.” His lips curled up into a snarl as he spoke.

Alfred started. “I don’t know what you’re-“

“Don’t lie to me, boy, you’re fucking him. I can see it on your face clear as day. That’s why you’re going along, advocating his ridiculous plan, supporting that sodomite.” He spat the word with such hatred that Alfred recoiled. He didn’t know what would happen when Henry connected the dots and labelled Alfred a sodomite as well. 

Henry leapt up from his chair and began to pace, still puffing on his pipe, while Alfred sat quietly awaiting his judgement, and doing his very best to avoid angering him further.

“Jesus, Alfred, it was bad enough when you were 16 and you had that- that misguided affair with the stable boy, but as a grown man to-“ Henry cut himself off to shake his head, before turning to face Alfred somewhat abruptly, jabbing his finger forward at him. “He forced you. You tell me forced you to do this, boy.”

Alfred tilted his chin up, Edward’s words ringing in his head. Stay Brave. “He did nothing of the sort and I refuse to tell you otherwise.”

Henry’s face had grown so red Alfred feared he might combust if he strained himself any further. “You will end this affair, Alfred. You will find someone else to jump aboard his sinking ship and play the degenerate advisor he so apparently craves. I refuse to have our family name thus sullied, Alfred, do you hear me?”

Alfred stood up from his seat and straightened out his clothes. “I will do no such thing, father. I am no longer dependant upon you. If you will not help then I will simply have to find someone else.”

Henry stared at Alfred in absolute disgust, his lips curled up in a grotesque snarl, brow knitted together. “If your poor mother could hear you… You are no son of mine.”

Alfred made no response, merely smiled politely at Henry.

“Get out.” Henry spoke through gritted teeth. “Get out!” He snapped when Alfred made no attempt to leave.

“With pleasure, my lord.” He bowed mockingly, before striding out of the room with his head held high.

 


 

“Alfred, I’m so sorry.” Edward ran his hand up and down Alfred’s arm, pressing a kiss onto the top of his head where Alfred was curled into his chest. They were in Alfred’s small apartment, having decided it might be less conspicuous. 

“You needn’t apologise, Edward, it’s hardly your fault.”

“But it is.” Edward made a frustrated noise in his throat. “This only happened because you were trying to support me, Alfred. I’ve dragged you headfirst into this ridiculous mess and now there’s no hope left for either of us, no more connections to exploit.”

“Edward, don’t be so ridiculous.” Alfred smacked his chest lightly, before pushing himself upwards to get a proper look at Edward. “You are the one who taught me how to find hope when it seems there is none left.”

Edward couldn’t help but grin up at him, his grin widening as Alfred leaned in to press a gentle kiss to his lips, his hand reaching up to tangle in Edward’s curls.

They were, unfortunately, interrupted by a furious knock on the door. 

“Ignore it,” Edward muttered against Alfred’s lips, before pulling him back into the kiss. 

The person on the other side of the door knocked again, more insistently this time, before beginning to yell. “Alfred, I know you’re in there. It’s George.”

Alfred lifted his head a little. “It’s my brother,” he whispers.

“Why are we being quiet, then?” Edward whispers back.

“Because we don’t know why he’s here. He could have sided with my father for all I know.” Alfred whispered back. He hoped against hope that his brother had taken his side, but in all honesty he had been quite out of the loop where family matters were concerned since his argument with his father.

“Look, Alfred, it’s urgent, you need to let me in, okay? Something’s happened,” George yelled again.

Alfred shared a glance with Edward, before stumbling out of bed. “Just a moment,” Alfred called, as he frantically grabbed at clothes strewn across the floor, gesturing for Edward to do the same.

Once he was dressed somewhat appropriately, he hurried to the door to let his brother in before the neighbours began to complain, ushering George inside.

“What on earth is the matter?” Alfred demanded.

“Father’s done something, Alfred.” George guided Alfred to a seat as he spoke, and looked up just in time to see Edward wandering out of the bedroom. “Of course he’s here.” George pinched the bridge of his nose. “I don’t know why I expected anything else. You’re extraordinarily reckless, Alfred, you realise that, don’t you?”

Alfred rolled his eyes. “Tell me what’s happened, George.”

George pursed his lips, and then swallowed heavily before he began. “Father has gone to speak with Peel and Mr Drummond, who will, no doubt, be speaking with Melbourne this very second.”

Alfred cursed under his breath, burying his head in his hands, while Edward stood stock-still in the doorway, utterly frozen. 

“I tried to convince him not to, Mama did too but he wouldn’t listen, Alfred, I’m so sorry.”

Alfred waved a hand dismissively. “There was nothing you could have done, George.”

As if on cue, someone else knocked on the door. Alfred chewed on his lip for a moment, before standing up.

“Stay with Edward,” he tells George, who nods sharply, before turning to usher Edward into the bedroom. 

With the door is firmly closed behind them, Alfred answered the door to find Melbourne waiting on the other side, a grim expression on his face. 

“I think you ought to come with me, Lieutenant.”

Alfred nodded mutely, following Melbourne and closing the door firmly behind him.

“I suspect you know what this is about.” Melbourne sighed deeply, glancing over to Alfred as he led the way to his office, only a short walk away.

“I do, sir.”

They walked in relative silence until they reached Melbourne’s office, at which point they came to a halt in front of his office door.

“I am sorry, Alfred, but I am afraid my hands are quite tied in this matter.” Melbourne offered a tight-lipped smile.

Alfred wanted to contradict him, to remind him that he most certainly had a choice, and he had simply decided that his livelihood was more important than whatever consequences awaited Alfred on the other side of that door. But before he could even begin to verbalise any of that, Melbourne was pushing open the door and ushering Alfred inside.

As expected, Charles Drummond was sat at Melbourne’s desk, with Peel standing a little way off in a corner. The expression of disgust was mirrored on both of their faces. 

“Well, Paget, have you anything to say for yourself?” Charles Drummond glared at him.

“I believe you have already passed judgement on me.” Alfred replied, fixing his eyes on the way behind Charles’ face.

“You wretched, impertinent fool.” Charles spat. “Your behaviour at dinner might have been a forgivable offence- look at me when I am talking to you boy,” Charles interrupted himself, and Alfred forced himself to look him in the eye, hoping the hatred in his eyes matched that which he saw in Charles’. “I might have forgiven you, Paget, but when your own father came to me to tell me of what you had been doing, buggering my son without a hint of remorse, in my own home, I was prepared to watch you hang.”

Melbourne stepped forwards from where he had remained by the door, giving Charles a warning look.

Charles took a breath. “Luckily for, neither I, nor your father, want a scandal.”

Peel stepped forwards. “We’ve devised a solution to deal with this matter quickly and discretely for all our sakes. You will be spared any official proceedings, provided that you leave England immediately. If you are ever seen on English soil again, make no mistake, you will face the full consequences of your actions,” he announced.

“You are dismissed from your position and stripped of all rank you currently hold.” Melbourne spoke from behind Alfred, sounding impressively unenthused, as though he was reading lines from a script.

“I suggest you gather your things and take the first ship you can find. If you are not gone within the week, I will take matters into my own hands, scandal be damned.” Charles waved his hand dismissively.

“I’m afraid this is goodbye, Paget. Some men simply aren’t fit for our society.” Peel practically snarled at him. 

Melbourne’s hand lands heavily on his shoulder, guiding Alfred out of the room before he could do anything reckless. Alfred was still reeling from everything he had just been told. He had, in the space of a few minutes, lost his position, his prospects, his home, and, he suspects, any semblance of an inheritance he might have received from his father. 

“I truly am sorry, Alfred.” Melbourne offered him that same tight lipped smile again, before closing the door in his face.

Alfred walked back to his apartment in something of a daze, still attempting to process everything that had happened. He was broken out of his trance, however, when he arrived to find his door torn from its hinges.

“Edward?” He called out as he ran into the apartment. “George?” He looked around and spots George cowering in the corner, his nose bloodied with a black eye beginning to form. “George, what happened? Are you okay? Where’s Edward?” He crouched down beside is brother, who shook his head silently.

“They came for him, Alfred. I couldn’t stop them.” George continued to shake his head, and Alfred realised vaguely that his whole body was trembling. “I’m so sorry, Alfred. I’m so sorry."

Alfred pulled George into a tight hug, feeling him begin to sob against his chest. “Shh, shh, it’s not your fault.” He whispered into his brother’s hair. “Do you know where they took him?”

George shook his head, leaning back and wiping fresh blood from his nose. “They didn’t say. They mentioned something about a girl, though, Florence?”

Alfred cursed under his breath. “Florence. His wife. Fuck!” Alfred ran a hand through his hair.

“Go. You need to find her.” George shoved Alfred gently. “I’ll be fine,” he said, in response to Alfred’s concerned look.

Alfred glanced at George once more, before clambering to his feet and half running out of the door. He knew the route to Edward’s home like the back of his own hand, pacing down familiar streets as quickly as he could without drawing attention to himself.

When he arrived, he knew it was already too late. 

“He’s not here, Alfred,” Florence sniffed when Alfred walked into the sitting room she was waiting in. Her eyes were ringed with red, and she looked more than a little dishevelled, a blanket draped over her shoulders as she shakily clutched a teacup. “They came here first. When they didn’t find him they went looking for him at your apartment.”

Alfred swallowed. “They found him. I wasn’t there to stop them.”

Florence pressed her eyes shut, a few tears spilling down her cheeks. “They’re taking him to Bedlam. His father already has people spreading the word that you and I have been having an affair for months, and that when he found out it drove him mad.”

“We’ll get him out of there-“

“Alfred, stop-“

“We’ll find a way to get him out, and then we’ll go-“

“Alfred, please-“

“We’ll go somewhere far away where they can’t reach us anymore-“

“Alfred, it’s over!” Florence yelled, setting her teacup back in its saucer with a loud clatter. “We lost. End of story.”

Alfred shook his head furiously. “This can’t be it, there has to be something we can do.”

“Edward’s father has reclaimed the house, and everything in it. He has stripped away any property I might have a claim to. I suspect he has done the same to you. Do you truly think we have any remaining power? Any sway left in the matter?” Florence stood up somewhat shakily and took a few steps towards Alfred. 

“It can’t be.”

“But it is,” She replied firmly, placing a hand on Alfred’s arm. “It’s just the two of us now. He’d want us to stay together, to take care of each other.”

Alfred shook his head again, looking her dead in the eye. “How can you be so calm? They took him, Florence, they’re going to lock him away, and torture him, and you’re acting as though he’s already dead.”

“He might as well be, Alfred, you know that. Nobody ever leaves those places, sane or otherwise.” Florence squeezed his arm gently.

“Did you even care about him?” Alfred snapped. “You’re so ready to just let him go. How am I to know you weren’t part of this whole thing?”

“How dare you.” Florence recoiled from him. “I loved him just as much as you did, Alfred, I am just as upset as you are, but one of us has to be rational here, and it clearly isn’t going to be you!” She paused and took a breath, before looking back up at him. “You’re hurt, I realise that, and I am too, but the fact of the matter is that we need to leave London with what little dignity we have and not look back. For his sake. Okay?”

Alfred took a deep, shuddering breath, staring at her and measuring the sincerity of her words carefully. He felt his heart crack and break into two as he replied, after a lengthy pause. “Okay.”

 


 

PRESENT DAY

“We took the next boat to Nassau. George came with me, seems to be the only person in my family who hasn’t totally turned against me. I needed work, so I joined a pirate crew. I was a skilled sailor, knew my way around a ship, so I worked my way up through the ranks fairly quickly,” Alfred narrates, trying to hide the tears springing to his eyes. What sort of a reputation would he have if that ever got out?

“And Edward?” Mina asks, so engrossed in the story that she can hardly help herself.

“We received word from one of Florence’s friends in London that he had committed suicide hardly three weeks after we left.” Alfred’s voice shakes uncontrollably as he speaks. “If I had stayed-“

“There was nothing you could have done, Florence was right, Alfred.”

Alfred sniffs and wipes at his eyes before continuing. “When I heard, I swore that England would feel the full weight of my wrath. They wanted a monster, so I became one. My reputation was good enough to start a crew of my own, and soon enough I became Captain Pelides, the most fearful pirate to sail the seven seas, and I’ve lived that way ever since.”

“Oh, Alfred…” Mina places a hand on his shoulder when she sees the pain lining his face.

Alfred glances over at her. “I’ve never really recounted it all before. If anyone else found out… Well, I’d certainly lose my captaincy, not to mention my chances at ever finding honest work again. Nassau may be a new world, but her prejudices are the same.”

Mina smiles sadly. “I suppose things never change.” Mina hesitates for a moment in the silence that follows. There’s a whisper of a memory, of something she had heard once, long ago, whispered like a taboo. She glances at Alfred, and debates whether or not to say anything. “What would you do, if you could see him again?” Mina asks, and she watches his face crumple. 

“Edward is dead, Mina, and there’s nothing you, or I, or anyone for that matter can do to change that, so there’s no use hoping otherwise,” Alfred replies, staring straight ahead of him. “Truth is, he was marked for death the moment he met me, the moment he crossed the room to talk to me.” Alfred chews on his lip for a moment. “If there is a God above, he is most certainly a cruel one, because I know that I saw it then. I saw how I would destroy him, and I loved him anyway.”

Mina feels tears rise in her eyes.

“So, Mina, I suppose the real answer is simple. If I could change one thing, if I could bend time to take myself back to the precise moment when I first saw him, I would turn around and walk in the opposite direction, and we would both be better for it.” Alfred concludes with a note of finality.

Mina opens her mouth to speak - she has to tell him, she decides, even if it could be nothing more than a rumour - but before she can say anything, there is a call from above deck.

“SAIL!” some unknown watchman yells, and Alfred jumps to attention immediately, breaking out of the trance he had lost himself in. 

Alfred runs out onto the deck without another word, barely remembering to close the door behind him, and grabs for his telescope. It’s hardly even dawn - he and Mina have been talking all night - but in the half-light he can make out a sail on the horizon. He looks closer, and inspects the ship through his telescope, before turning to the patient crew awaiting his verdict.

“It’s the Ilium.”

Chapter Text

The crew had sprung into action the moment Alfred announced that they were face to face with the prize they had been hunting. He had signalled quickly to George on the Deidameia, and then begun the pursuit. 

“Easy, men,” he calls, “we cannot give ourselves away just yet. She must not think we are following her. Aim a few degrees left of her.”

The man at the steering wheel, whose name Alfred cannot for the life of him remember, frowns at him and makes no attempt to move.

“Dammit, man, I gave you an order,” Alfred huffs.

“Sorry, sir,” he nods, turning the wheel quickly. 

“Not too much, we don’t want to waste too much time going in the wrong direction.” Alfred reacts immediately, placing a hand on the wheel to stop it. 

“Sorry again, sir,” the boy apologises. 

Alfred hesitates for a second, turning to the boy and taking him in. He barely looks old enough to be on board this ship, though he’s a good deal taller than Alfred. “You don’t usually man the wheel, do you?”

The boy shakes his head quickly. “No, sir.”

“Enough with this Sir business.” Alfred gestures at him with a hand. 

“Sorry, si-“ the boy catches himself.

“How long have you been with us?” Alfred asks. He hardly remembers the boy’s face, thinks perhaps he might have seen him a few times around the ship but he can’t be a long-standing member of the crew.

“This is my first voyage with you.” He looks utterly terrified, as though he’s afraid that Alfred will berate him, or punish him somehow. 

Alfred huffs and runs a hand through his hair. “Well, I don’t know who left you in charge of the wheel,” he reaches for it and sets it quickly to where he wants it, “but this is the angle we want to be heading towards her at, okay?”

The boy nods. “Thank you.”

“Hold her steady. If she thinks we’re pursuing her she’ll open fire the moment we’re in range, and I don’t like the look of all those gun ports.” Alfred pulls out a telescope. So far, they hardly seem to have attracted the attention of the Ilium. Either the men on board are stupid, or they’re being very, very clever.

Alfred glances around him. The rest of the crew are in high spirits, already gearing themselves up for battle and bragging amongst themselves about what they plan to do with their share of the gold. There is not a hint of suspicion left among them to direct at him, save for Billy, who is watching his every move from the other end of the ship, arms folded across his chest. Alfred would have sent him off to George’s ship if he didn’t know that it would only anger Billy further.

Well, Alfred suspects Billy won’t be able to cause him many problems once he provides the crew with more gold than they’ve ever seen in their lives. 

“What’s your name?” Alfred turns back to the boy, who is holding the steering wheel resolutely, eyes fixed on the horizon.

The boy looks up at Alfred, as though surprised that they’re still speaking. “Uh, it’s James, sir.” Alfred raises an eyebrow at him. “Sorry.”

“James, when the fighting begins, you stay back, okay? That’s an order.”

James nods quickly at him, clearly trying to mask the relief flooding his face. Alfred smiles at him, reminding him to keep their course straight. He hates losing new recruits in battle, and what’s worse is that they’re usually the first to fall. He’d rather avoid that if it’s at all possible.

Alfred strides down towards the bow of the ship, where Billy is still watching him, arms crossed, and raises his eyebrows at him. “Haven’t you got something to do, Billy. It’s all hands on deck while we’re in pursuit, you know that.”

“My job is taken care of; the sails are where they need to be, there are men awaiting orders on the rigging in case the situation changes.” Billy gestures to the masts, where Alfred can see that there are indeed men dotted around, then allows his arms to fall to his side. “I’m just waiting on you, Captain.”

Alfred nods, choosing to ignore the edge to Billy’s words. “I’m glad to know you’ve got the situation under control. I expect at this pace we’ll be close enough to her within the next few hours. All we need to do then is stay close until nightfall.”

Billy narrows his eyes at Alfred. “We’ll lose her at night.”

Alfred chuckles, leaning forward to rest his hands on the edge of the boat. “That’s why we’re staying close. When it’s dark enough, we’ll launch a small ambush via the water. A few men will swim to the Ilium and board her quietly. They’ll work quickly to take out her watchmen while the rest of the crew sleeps, then light a signal. Once that signal is given, the rest of the crew will follow.”

Billy chews on his lip for a moment. “It’s a smart plan,” he admits, avoiding looking Alfred in the eye. “Does the Quartermaster know about it?”

“He does. His men will join when they see the signal.” Alfred glances over his shoulder to where the Deidameia is trailing behind them, a safe distance away. He tries not to think about his argument with George, and the fact that they’ll have no chance now to resolve it before the battle. “I will need a second-in-command to wait here while I lead the ambush, someone who will lead the response to the signal.” Alfred glances over at Billy, whose arms seem to have folded instinctively over his chest again.

“You think you can bribe me with a position of power?”

“Not at all, Billy. I’ve merely noticed that you’re a good leader, and the men clearly trust you. Frankly, there’s no other man on board this ship that I’d trust to lead them.” Alfred stands up straight and turns to face Billy directly.

Billy hesitates, frowning at Alfred as though trying to sense a trap. He relents after a moment, though his frown remains intact. “I still don’t like you.”

Alfred chuckles, turning back to face the Ilium. “You don’t have to like me. You just have to trust me.”

Billy can’t help but crack a small, lopsided smile. “I’ll work on that.”

 


 

Alfred is absolutely soaking wet when he eventually manages to get on board the deck of the Ilium. He moves as quickly as he can while remaining quiet, making quick work of the men on deck, muffling their cries before they can alert anyone to his presence. 

He glances behind him to see the last of his supposedly elite team - the best of a relatively bad lot, unfortunately - struggling up on deck. He gestures quickly to them to take out the watchman, who, remarkably, doesn’t seem to have noticed them yet, his attention presumably focused out at sea and not on deck.

God, he hopes they can pull this off.

Alfred had briefed them quickly on what to do. Take out the watchman, then set a fire at the top of the tower to signal for the rest of the men. Meanwhile, he would go below deck, where the captain would (hopefully) be asleep. The rest of them were to wait above deck until either he returned, or the others arrived, at which point the battle would really commence. 

As the men begin to climb up the rigging to the small nest at the top of the mast, Alfred glanced around the deck. He would have thought a ship carrying such a valuable prize would be better defended, especially if her captain had spotted other ships nearby before nightfall. He grabbed the last man waiting on deck - a brawny but not especially bright man who went by Vaughn - just before he began to climb. 

“Come with me. Something doesn’t feel right here.” Alfred tugs Vaughn by his wrist, glancing once more around the now-empty deck before heading for the captain’s quarters.

Alfred can feel the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end a little as he creeps below deck, trying the knob on the captain’s door as quietly as possible. Much to his surprise, it opens without protest.

“What kind of captain doesn’t lock his doors?” Alfred murmurs to himself, before pushing it open.

He really shouldn’t have been surprised to find the ship’s captain sitting at his desk, a few candles lit, sitting up expectantly when Alfred enters the room.

“Good evening,” he sighs, settling back in his seat. “I suppose you’re here for the gold?”

“No sir, you’re quite mistaken, we’re here for your rum.” Alfred deadpans.

“I thought as much,” the captain chuckles, remarkably calm. Alfred finds it rather disconcerting, his hand twitching instinctively towards his sword. 

His suspicions prove at least somewhat justified when the captain pulls a pistol from his belt and shoots immediately, catching Vaughn in the shoulder. Vaughn stumbles back, but manages to muffle his cries, though Alfred suspects that won’t have been much use considering the gunshot was loud enough to have woken at least half the crew on this ship.

Alfred reacts quickly, unsheathing his sword and pointing it directly at the captain.

“Got any more of those?” He can tell from the captain’s face that that was, apparently, his only loaded pistol. Alfred can’t help but smile. He wonders how well these men were truly briefed on the pirate situation. Perhaps England hadn’t truly thought any pirates would be bold enough. “Vaughn, get in here and lock the door,” Alfred commands, not taking his eyes off the captain.

Vaughn, though looking a little worse for wear, obeys quickly.

“I suppose you’re going to kill me and my crew, then?” The captain sighs.

Alfred ignores him “Draw your sword, man.” he gestures to the sword hanging at the captain’s side. “Come now, don’t make this boring.”

The captain, somewhat reluctantly, obeys. Alfred can see that he’s old, and perhaps a little out of practice, but, after what happened with Peel, after laying himself bare and recounting his past, he finds he can’t quite bring himself to kill the captain when he stands defenceless in front of him and looks him in the eye.

Dammit, this would have been easier if the captain were asleep and Alfred could slit his throat and tell himself it was just business.

In the end, they only exchange a few blows before Alfred drives his sword into the Captain’s stomach. He falls to his knees, and, for the first time in a while, Alfred feels a small stirring of guilt in the pit of his stomach. Damn him for no longer being able to dissemble.

Alfred shakes himself a little, stepping back from the Captain’s body, and is rather pleased to hear the sound of feet landing on the deck above them, marking the arrival of the rest of the crew.

“Vaughn, wait here, I’ll ensure someone comes to fetch you once the battle is over, and we’ll have that wound seen to.” Alfred smiles reassuringly at the man, who has now sunk down onto the small bed in the corner of the room.

The rest of the battle passes rather quickly. It seems the captain was not entirely unprepared, and had ensured that all of the men had loaded their pistols and had them close at hand, which led to several losses among Alfred’s crew, but, ultimately, the combined crews of the Myrmidon and the Deidameia had the numbers to overpower the crew of the Ilium. It seemed they hadn’t been well prepared for a battle where their multitude of cannons would be useless.

He’d expected a bit more of a fight, if he was being honest, but he supposed that, without a captain, it was rather hard for the men to organise themselves into any semblance of strategic battle, as he had planned. 

Having ensured that the battle was thoroughly over, and that all remaining crew members were either dead or pledged to their cause, Alfred ventures down to the hold with George in tow, trying to ignore the tension still hanging between them. 

When he opens the door to the hold, using keys he had stolen from the captain, he freezes for a moment, hardly able to fathom the sheer volume of gold in front of him. The gold hadn’t even been the goal for him, he knew, but the sheer quantity of it was enough to stun any man into silence; crates upon crates gleaming with unfathomable riches.

George approaches Alfred somewhat stiffly. “Do you want me to begin moving the gold? I can bring the Deidameia alongside-“

“Christ no, why would we do that?” Alfred turns to stare at him as if he’s gone entirely insane. “It’s best if we leave the gold. I spoke to Victoria and she agreed that, if we took the Ilium in sailable condition, the best course of action would be to leave the Deidameia and bring back the Ilium instead.”

George nods.

“I would advise that you take your crew back to the Deidameia, move your remaining supplies onto the Myrmidon, and then drop the Deidameia’s anchor so there’s a chance someone can reclaim her. You may captain the Ilium for our return, if you would like, and I shall return to the Myrmidon.” Alfred steps back from the hold and locks the door behind him again. “The Ilium is stocked for a long journey, I'm certain her supplies will sustain you.”

“Very well. I’ll begin immediately, hopefully we will be ready to sail by dawn.” George nods again and turns to leave.

Alfred catches his arm before he can go. “George,” he calls softly.

George turns back to him, his expression fixed in a carefully neutral mask.

“I’m sorry. You were right before, I shouldn’t have gone after the Scamander. And I should’t have shouted at you the way I did.” Alfred fixes his eyes on George with as much sincerity as he can possibly muster. He needs George to feel how sorry he is.

George continues to watch him blankly, although Alfred can see a small glint in his eye now.

“Come now, George, I’m letting you sail the big, fun battleship with all the cannons, you can’t truly still be angry with me.” Alfred smiles playfully at George, and is relieved to see his brother’s face crack into a grin as well.

“Of course I forgive you, Alfred, you’re my brother.” George rolls his eyes, and bumps his shoulder against Alfred’s. “Now, plenty of work to do. I presume you’re going to snoop around the captain’s room for a bit?” 

“You know me well,” Alfred chuckles.

George grins, saluting mockingly to him and hurrying above deck to gather his crew. 

Alfred follows suit not long after and begins giving orders, instructing men to remove the bodies from the ship and prepare her to sail. He ensures all wounded crew members are being seen to by their ‘doctor’, who has just enough medical knowledge to keep them all alive until they reach land, and sends a few men to take stock of food and water supplies, before ducking back below deck to the captain’s quarters. 

He’s rather relieved to find that the captain’s body has already been removed and tossed overboard. He’s not entirely sure he could have stomached it again.

Alfred begins his usual search, taking stock of the ship, looking through he captain’s log to see if it provides any information that might be of interest back in Nassau. He scans the bookshelves to see if the captain had any decent reading material on board, but comes up empty handed.

Frankly, the previous captain of the Ilium hadn’t been the most organised. His desk is a mess of papers and letters and maps strewn haphazardly on top of each other. Alfred thinks it’s something of a wonder that this ship arrived in the right place at the right time. 

He takes a seat at the desk and begins to sift through the various pieces of paper. He collects a few of the letters that look more personal than official and decides to post them when he gets back to Nassau. It would be a shame if someone didn’t receive a letter from their beloved, or from their family, simply because the ship carrying it had been taken by pirates.

His eyes fall upon another letter just as the sun is beginning to rise. He ought to be preparing to meet with George and switch over soon, but his heart damn near stops when he reads a far too familiar name on the address of one of the letters.

Mr Edward Drummond

It can’t be. Alfred knows that it can’t possibly be his Edward, surely that would be impossible. And it’s addressed to a plantation in Savannah. Alfred can’t even begin to fathom what Edward would be doing there, even if he was alive.

It’s not as though Edward Drummond is a particularly unpopular name; in fact, Alfred is certain that it’s highly probable that there are other Edward Drummonds in the world.

He opens the letter anyway. He has to know, has to be sure, and perhaps this letter could offer some clue, could confirm or deny whether or not this Edward is the one he believed to be dead. 

The letter is brief, more perfunctory than anything else, but Alfred reads it almost hungrily.

Edward,

I understand it has been many years since we spoke, and I suspect you still resent me for what happened. However, I feel it is my duty to inform you of your mother’s recent passing so that you might grieve properly. She never forgave me for sending you away, and it was her final request that I write to you again to tell you she loved you.

I hope time has helped you see that I was being merciful.

Regards,
Charles Drummond.

Alfred reads the letter for a second time. Then a third. Then a fourth. His eyes stick each time on the name at the bottom. Charles Drummond. Edward’s father. 

Surely it couldn’t be possible. Surely they couldn’t have been lied to all those years ago when they were told Edward was taken to an asylum. When they were told Edward was dead.

Alfred is suddenly very glad he’s sitting down.

“Alfred, are you still poking around in there?” George calls, knocking briefly before walking in. 

Alfred blinks, looking up from the letter.

“Christ, Alfred, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.” George stares at him, frowning a little.

“I think perhaps I might have.” Alfred stares blankly into space.

“Are you quite alright?”

Alfred glances down at the letter, and notices how badly his hands are shaking, before folding it and tucking it in his pocket, pushing himself to his feet somewhat unsteadily. “Sorry, George, I’m afraid I’m quite exhausted. I think perhaps the best thing for me is to get back to the Myrmidon and get some rest.” 

Alfred musters up a weak smile which doesn’t fool George in the slightest, but he lets it slide, stepping aside to let Alfred past.

“I’ll see you back in Nassau, provided nothing goes wrong on our journey home,” Alfred says, before hurrying above deck. He’s grateful to find that George has already brought the Myrmidon alongside the Ilium, and that the crews are already hopping across between the boats.

He hardly makes it through separating from the Ilium and setting their course before he’s retreating below deck to his cabin where Mina is waiting somewhat expectantly. His crew seem to be prepared to cut him a little slack after the night they’ve all had, perhaps thanks to the extreme amount of gold sitting in the ship trailing behind them.

Mina smiles at him from the bed as Alfred slumps into his chair. He looks a mess, his clothes are splattered with blood that will take Florence hours to get out, if she ever agrees to speak to him again, his hair is sticking up at ten different angles from running his hand through it, and he knows that his exhaustion is written on his face. 

“Good news, I hear,” Mina says, breaking the slightly tense silence between them.

He swallows for a moment, preparing himself to meet her eye. “Yes, very good.”

Mina nods, and watches him expectantly as though waiting for him to continue. Alfred slips a hand into his pocket and feels the letter, a little crumpled, but still safely stashed away.

“I’m sorry, Mina, I’m very tired, can I regale you with battle stories later?”

Mina frowns at him for a moment - damn her for being so observant - but doesn’t comment, just nods a little and stands up. “By all means take the bed, I don’t mind.”

Alfred smiles gratefully at her and lies down facing away from her. He’s not sure he can handle her watching him, trying to figure out what on earth has come over him. He hears the sound of his chair creaking slightly, the sound of her picking up a book, and the quiet whisper of pages as she begins to read. 

Realistically, Alfred knows telling her wouldn’t cause him any problems; she already knows the whole story inside out, and frankly it might help to talk about it.

But he’s terrified. So. Fucking. Terrified.

Verbalising it, telling someone he thinks Edward might be alive somewhere, means it stands a chance of coming true. It means there’s something concrete, something tangible floating around. Part of him longs for it. He longs for the validation that notion would receive if someone else knew.

The rest of him is terrified of what might happen if he told someone and it turned out not to be Edward. What if he went looking for Edward at this address and found someone else? What if it was all some ridiculous coincidence, or a cruel joke being played on him? Could he bear it? Could he bear to lose Edward all over again?

Six years had passed and he still missed Edward just as much as the first day he’d been without him. Losing Edward hadn’t ever been something that had healed, it had simply been something he had grown around, learned to live with. It had been the making of this strange new man he had become, it had driven him every day to keep going, and it had destroyed him. Could he do it again? Suffer it all again?

“Mina,” he calls out, quietly, without rolling to face her.

She hums by way of response, and he can picture her, sat in his desk chair, book in hand, looking up at him with a small smile. 

“You asked me what I would give, what I would do to see Edward again.” Alfred swallows thickly. “The truth is, I hardly know.” His voice cracks a little as he curls into himself.

He hears the rustle of Mina’s clothes as she stands up and walks across the room, before crouching down beside the bed, resting her hand lightly on his shoulder.

Alfred stays still, resolutely refusing to roll over and face her. “I don’t think there’s a single thing I wouldn’t do to be with him. I would give my life gladly if it meant I could just look at him again. No matter how fleeting, no matter from how far, I could die happily.”

He rolls just a little to lie flat on his back, staring up at the ceiling above him. Mina’s hand strokes up and down his arm, and he finds the gesture surprisingly comforting risking a quick glance at her.

“Do you even think it’s possible?” he whispers, and he looks so hopeless, so stricken, that Mina thinks she could burst into tears just looking at him.

She doesn’t dare tell him what she thinks she might know. With no evidence, no real knowledge that such… places could even exist, she doesn’t dare give him false hope. Not when he’s this desperate.

Mina doesn’t know what happened on that ship, what he saw, what he found, but it’s clearly taken it’s toll.

“I don’t know, Alfred,” she whispers, settling for a safe option. “I truly don’t know.”

Chapter Text

“Ma’am.” Alfred bows deeply as he enter’s Victoria’s office, a small grin on his face.

She looks up at him from where she’s sat at her desk, her face a picture of disapproval. “Alfred, you really are too ridiculous for your own good.”

“I shall take that as a compliment.”

“I take it your voyage was successful?” She smiles at him. She already knows precisely how successful it was, must have known the moment the Ilium was spotted on the horizon.

“We are already arranging for your share of the gold to be brought to you. The Deidameia, though intact, was a sacrifice we had to make. She is, however, waiting patiently if any crew wanted to go and collect her.” 

Victoria tries to bite back a grin, maintaining an air of professionalism that was so key to her control over Nassau. “I’ll look into it.”

Alfred couldn’t help but smile just watching her. His respect for Victoria was utterly immeasurable; the pirate queen of Nassau, the woman who was able to govern an entire fleet of pirate ships, and who absolutely refused to take any shit from any of them, including her own husband. She was the stuff of legends.

Alfred couldn’t help but let his mind flicker back to the letter, to the plantation - Rose Hill, it had been called. It sounded really rather quaint with a name like that, though he suspected it was anything but. If anyone was going to know about this place, it was Victoria.

“Was there anything else, Alfred?” Victoria glanced back up at him from where she had already begun working again, tallying up recent prizes and their respective worth.

“I, uh, I wondered if you might know anything about Rose Hill Plantation in Savannah.” Alfred can’t quite bring himself to meet her eye.

She sits back in her chair, setting down her quill. “Well, it’s a positively ghastly place, Alfred. It’s where rich families send their ‘problematic’ relatives.” She twitches her eyebrows at him. “Abolitionists, revolutionaries, sodomites,” she lists, waving her hand dismissively. Alfred tries not to flinch at the way she says ‘sodomites’. “Anyone who rocks the boat, essentially, is shipped off to be used as an alternative to slaves, totally free of charge. In fact, I rather believe the owner gets paid to take them.”

Alfred feels rather nauseous even just thinking about Edward in such a place, and yet the more he hears, the more possible it sounds that he might be. 

“I believe it is advertised as a safe dumping ground for undesirables; they’re kept alive and available for visitation, well cared for, but utterly cut off from society, for as long as the family is willing to keep sending money. To the rest of the world, they cease to exist.” Victoria looks rather disgusted by the entire concept of it.

“It sounds rather abhorrent,” Alfred manages, hoping she doesn’t catch on to his tone, or the way he seems to have suddenly become rather pale. 

“Yes, I believe it is,” Victoria mutters, before turning her attention back to Alfred as he struggles to compose himself. “Why on earth do you ask?”

Alfred fumbles for a reason that isn’t ‘I think my male ex-lover might be there’ and comes up empty handed. “I, uh, I heard the name in passing and I was curious.”

“Well, I hope you didn’t hear it from your crew. I had a captain a few years ago who was overthrown by his quartermaster and sent there for good measure.” Victoria smiles lightly at him, clearly attempting to be playful, despite the rather dark subject matter.

“I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about,” he replies, attempting to smile but hardly managing to muster more than a grimace. “I shall leave you to your work. Enjoy the gold.” He performs a mock bow again, before hurrying out of her office as quickly as his legs will take him.

 


 

“You know, Alfred, I really think Florence is going to need a little more by way of an apology than several crates of gold.” Mina looks out of the window of the carriage carrying them to Florence’s cottage. 

Alfred grits his teeth. “Yes, I know that, Mina. I’m working it.” 

They settle back into a vaguely uncomfortable silence as Alfred tries to piece together what on earth he should say to Florence. They left things dreadfully between the two of them, and he knows he behaved like an absolute brute, taking advantage of her hospitality and then behaving so terribly… he wouldn’t blame her if she never forgave him. Of course, she had said things that had hurt him too, but nothing she had said had warranted his reaction. He had crossed a line, and he had to own that.

The carriage rolled to a stop outside Florence’s house, and Alfred forces himself to take a deep steadying breath. He can do this, he tells himself. Florence might well be his only friend, aside from Wilhelmina, his unlikely ally, and George, his brother, which doesn’t really count. Preserving his friendship with Florence matters more than anything in the world, for Edward, who may or may not be alive, if nothing else.

“Alfred? Are we going to go in or not?” Wilhelmina prods his side lightly, snapping him out of his reverie.

“Uh, yes, sorry, I was just… I was thinking.” Alfred shakes himself slightly, before opening the carriage door and jumping out, hurrying round to the other side to lend Mina a hand before carefully unloading the crates of gold stashed in the coach and carrying them quickly to the door.

Mina waited a little way behind him, giving him space to speak with Florence properly and privately. Alfred glances back at her as he sets the crates down, before turning back to the door and knocking politely. 

Florence opened the door almost immediately - Alfred assumes she probably heard the carriage arriving - and crosses her arms over her chest, staring at Alfred expectantly. She doesn’t look like she’s in the mood for games.

“I see you had a successful trip.” She raises an eyebrow at him when he doesn’t speak immediately.

Alfred purses his lips quickly before speaking. “Florence, I am incredibly sorry for the way I behaved the last time I was here. You were right, I have been avoiding how I feel about Edward for far too long, and I took that out on you. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me, I promise I will never behave like that again.” Alfred swallows and looks up at her from where he is stood a step lower than her.

Florence’s eyes flicker over him, as though measuring his sincerity, before stepping aside and gesturing for him to come in. “Come on, I made dinner when I heard your ship came in.” 

Alfred smiles at her and pulls her into a tight hug. She freezes for a moment, before relaxing into the hug and wrapping her arms around him.

“Alfred?” she says when she pulls back from the hug. “I’m sorry too. I crossed a line, I shouldn’t have pushed you like that-“

“It’s already forgiven, Florence.” Alfred shakes his head at her. 

“God, I missed you, idiot, I was worried sick. I kept thinking about what would happen if you didn’t come back, if that was the last thing I ever said to you…”

Alfred places his hands firmly on her shoulders. “But I did come back, Florence. I’m here.” Alfred stoops just a little so their eyes are level.

Florence nods, taking a deep breath. “Of course, you’re right.” She musters up a smile. “I see you brought Wilhelmina back? Did she manage to crack you?”

Alfred rolls his eyes but he can’t deny the truth in her words. “I told her everything.”

“Well I’m very proud of you,” Florence says, her smile utterly genuine this time. “Come on, invite her in for dinner then.”

 


 

 

Florence chattered politely throughout their mostly silent dinner, which consisted primarily of Alfred and Mina trying to eat as much decent food as they could manage, after weeks of stale bread and questionable stew. She told them about her recent dinner with the Wheelers next-door, and the local gossip she had gleaned, and how well her garden was doing this year. 

“I grew the vegetables myself.” She beams at the pair of them.

“Well, they’re rather delightful.” Alfred returns her smile, helping himself to another serving of food to avoid having to tell her that Edward may or may not be alive. God, he doesn’t even know how to begin.

As if sensing his discomfort, Mina quickly distracts Florence from him by talking eagerly about how she would be very interested to see the garden, and perhaps give Florence a hand if she would be happy to have her help. Florence grins at her, and Alfred can’t help but notice a slight blush spreading across her cheeks as she tells Mina she would be delighted to have her help.

Well, that was certainly a new development.

Once Alfred is quite certain he cannot eat any more, he sits back in his seat, chewing on his lip as he waits for a natural gap in Florence and Mina’s conversation. He knows there is no use delaying the inevitable any further; Florence deserves to know just as much as he did. Edward was her husband, after all.

“Florence,” he begins as the conversation lulls. “There’s something I ought to tell you.”

Florence looks immediately on edge, her eyes set intently on him. “What is it? What’s happened?”

Mina shifts a little uncomfortably in her seat glancing between the two of them. “Should I give you two some privacy?”

Alfred sighs a little, glancing over at her. “You’re as much a part of this as Florence and I, I think you might as well stay.”

He hesitates a little, trying to find the right words to break the news gently.

“You’re worrying me now, surely it can’t be that bad?” Florence attempts to laugh, but it comes out rather strained.

“It’s not bad at all. In fact, it’s rather wonderful news.” Alfred smiles just a little. “When I was on board the Ilium, I found this letter in the Captain’s office.” He takes the letter from his pocket and hands it to Florence. “It’s a letter to Edward from his father, dated not three weeks ago.”

Florence shakes her head, looking down at the letter and then back up at Alfred, her lips pursed. “This is a cruel trick."

“It’s not a trick, Florence. The letter is addressed to a plantation in Savannah where rich families send their problematic relatives. The Ilium was due to stop there a few days from now.” Alfred can see the way Florence’s hands are shaking as she looks over the letter again.

“It’s not possible. He’s dead. He’s been dead for six years,” she whispers, more to herself than anyone else.

“It’s hardly three days away from here.” Alfred reaches across the table to take one of her hands in his, squeezing gently. “You know I have to go.”

“It can’t be. They told us he was dead, what reason would they have to lie?”

“To tie up loose ends? To keep us from ever coming back? To conceal the fact that they’ve done something even worse? They have any number of reasons to lie to us.”

“And what if it isn’t him? What if you go there and you find someone else, or find that the letter was planted simply to hurt you even more?” Florence drops the letter onto the table

“Well then it was a wasted journey, but I honestly can’t see what else I have to lose, Florence.”

Florence opens and then closes her mouth, her lower lip trembling a little as she searches for what to say.

“I heard rumours, back in London,” Mina pipes up, “from loose-lipped sailors who talked about men being bundled onto ships in the middle of the night only to allegedly have passed away in an asylum a few days later.”

Alfred nods at Mina, thanking her quietly with his eyes, before turning back to Florence, shrugging slightly. Florence watches him silently, swallowing thickly as she does her best not to burst into tears.

“Florence, before I left, you asked me when I would stop, when all of this would end.” Alfred moves to crouch down beside her, taking her hand in his.

She shakes her head at him like she doesn’t what to know the answer to her question anymore.

“It ends when he and I are together again, in this lifetime or the next. I would lay down my sword, forget my grudges, and leave England to her folly, if he were here by my side.” Alfred can feel tears welling in his own eyes as Florence wipes a tear from her cheek.

“It’s not possible, Alfred, it can’t be.”

Alfred shrugs. “Maybe it isn’t. But if there’s even the slightest of chances that he might be there… I can’t give up on him.”

Florence frowns at him, shaking her head. “I’m not giving up-“

“I know.” Alfred squeezes her hand. “I know you’re not. I know it’s easier not to hope. I know it saves you the heartache of losing him again. I understand that, and I promise I don’t think badly of you for it. But I have to try, Florence. I have to.”

“Please…” Florence whispers. She doesn’t even know what she’s asking for anymore.

“For the first time in six years there’s a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. There’s hope,” he says, a few tears slipping down his cheeks, “that maybe we don’t have to be alone anymore. And besides,” he cracks a teary smile, “what do I stand to lose if it’s not him?”

“Alfred, I want this for you, for us, more than I can possibly say, believe me. But I can’t stand to see you get your heart broken again.” Florence places both of her hands on Alfred’s, squeezing tightly.

“I hardly think it’s possible for my heart to break any more than it already has.” He squeezes her hand back. “You know I have to do this.”

Florence swallows, pressing her eyes shut as she takes a deep breath. “I know.”

 


 

Alfred tracks George down in Nassau’s only tavern, nursing a glass of whiskey.

“How quickly can you gather the crew?” He says, not even bothering to sit down as he bounces on his heels.

“Well, hello to you too, no I didn’t want to come and have dinner with Florence, thank you so much for offering, but I’d rather just wait here alone.” George drawls, his words dripping with sarcasm. 

“George.” 

George raises an eyebrow at Alfred’s clearly agitated state. “I can probably have them all back on the ship in an hour. What on earth is the matter with you? Is this still about whatever happened on the Ilium? Because don’t think for a second I believed your crap excuse.”

Alfred taps his foot against the floor, staring George down. “We don’t have time for this. Maybe if we work together we can gather them all quicker.”

“Woah, woah, hold your horses, Alfred.” George stands up, putting his hands on Alfred’s shoulders to hold him still. “The men won’t take kindly to you dragging them away from the brothel, so it’s probably better if I do it while you wait on the ship. I’m assuming you’ll want a happy crowd for whatever you’re trying to pull off now.”

Alfred nods quickly, still bouncing on his heels in spite of George. “You’re probably right.”

“I’m always right.” George grins at him. “Now go and wait on the ship. I’ll be as quick as I can.”

Alfred does as he’s told, for once, and, sure enough, an hour later the crew is assembled on the deck of the Myrmidon, some looking a little more disgruntled than others, watching him expectantly. 

Alfred paces in front of them for a moment, George watching him carefully like this time he might genuinely have gone mad, before coming to a halt facing everyone. 

“With all due respect, Captain,” Alfred spots Vaughn, raising his good arm slightly in the crowd, “if this is about a new prize, I can’t say I’m all that interested at the moment.”

“You’re very right, Vaughn, I completely understand that. I did not call you all here to discuss a new prize, though,” Alfred says, trying not to feel unsettled by the murmur that runs through the crowd. “I have two matters I would like to discuss with you all.”

George watches his brother as he straightens himself up and squares his shoulders the way he always does before presenting a somewhat controversial idea.

“The first of these matters is that, in spite of our recent success, I shall be making the decision to step down as your captain soon.”

The crowd of assembled crew-members falls into uproar, and, for once, George is surprised to see that every last one of the men seems to be upset by the suggestion. Even Billy, who is stood at the front of the crowd, doesn’t look pleased. George, though somewhat caught off-guard, can’t say he is entirely surprised. He has known for a while that Alfred had grown tired of piracy, and, with the gold from the Ilium firmly in his grasp, he’s in a position to settle down comfortably.

Alfred raises his hands to quieten the crowd so he can speak. “Before I address that, however, I have a more imminent matter to discuss. I have learned recently that a dear friend of mine may be imprisoned in a plantation in Savannah.”

George’s eyes widen, and he almost chokes on his own breath at the revelation. He only knows of one person Alfred would refer to as his ‘dear friend’.

“I plan to travel there and attempt to free him, and I would be immensely grateful if you would embark on this journey with me, one last time.” Alfred speaks slowly, his eyes constantly flickering over the crowd and measuring their reaction. “I understand that this is a personal mission, and that we will not be hunting a prize, so the financial benefit to you will be limited, but I am willing to pay reasonable wage out of my own pocket for anyone who wishes to accompany me.” 

George can’t help but marvel at his brother’s ability to win over a crowd without them even realising he’s doing it.

“This is, however, a democracy, and I understand fully if you decide to vote against this. I am happy to seek passage on another ship,” Alfred finishes, before taking a small back, as if to open the floor to any questions or responses. 

The crew watch in uncomfortable silence for just long enough that George starts to wonder whether Alfred might have failed at convincing them this time. When Billy steps forward so he’s level with Alfred, George is certain that he’s in for trouble this time around. 

Billy folds his arms over his chest, but, surprisingly enough, he directs his disappointed look, not at Alfred, but at the crew. “Your captain has sacrificed a great deal for this crew, and he has been responsible for ensuring that there was gold in your pockets for the past six years. Let’s not forget who led us to the Ilium and secured us enough gold to last a life time.”

Alfred smiles gratefully at him, but it appears Billy isn’t quite finished. 

“I may not always have liked him, but our Captain is the bravest man this ship ever saw, and the smartest, and it is high time we repaid him by granting him the one favour he has ever asked of us, and we shouldn’t be asking him to pay us for it either.” Billy glares back at the crew, and even places a hand on Alfred’s shoulder as if to show solidarity.

George has his suspicions that Billy’s motives are not entirely unclouded by thoughts of personal gain - with Alfred stepping down, the captaincy is officially in play, and George doesn’t doubt that Billy has his eyes set on it - but his support is a nice sentiment nonetheless. 

“I’ll sail with you,” a voice pipes up from the crowd from a boy George hardly recognises.

“Thank you, James.” Alfred smiles at the boy in a way that looks almost paternal.

“Anyone else?” Billy calls, glancing back at George pointedly. 

“I’ll sail, though I assumed that was a given.” George steps forward, and Alfred chuckles a little. 

Eventually more hands are raised, as more people announce their intentions to sail with Alfred. It’s still perhaps only half of their crew, but it’s enough men to sail the ship, which is good enough for him.

“Thank you, Billy,” Alfred pats his former-nemesis on the shoulder, and Billy nods politely, before moving back to join the crowd. “Thank you, everyone. I greatly appreciate your support.”

George leans back against the side of the boat a little, waiting for Alfred to continue. 

“As for the matter of my Captaincy, I feel that it is time I stepped aside and allowed others to take my place. I would urge you, however, to keep the Pelides name alive. That name, which strikes fear into the heart of all who hear it, was not built upon fear of me alone. It was built upon a fear of all of you, and I hope you will continue its legacy without me.

“In my time on this ship, I have met many fine men, and I cannot think of any two finer candidates to follow me than your current Quartermaster, George, and your Boatswain, Billy. I am of the opinion that these two men would lead you with the utmost tact and humility. I shall, however, leave you to vote on this matter independently of myself.”

George almost falls into the ocean when he hears Alfred mention his name in relation to captaining the Myrmidon, and just barely manages to keep himself from toppling over the side by stumbling forwards instead as the entire crew fixes their eyes on either him or Billy. 

“Now, unless anyone else has a matter to discuss, I would like to propose that we prepare to set sail as quickly as possible.” Alfred clasps his hands together, waiting for a moment to see if anyone has anything to bring forward. When the crew remains silent, Alfred nods, and quickly begins firing off orders, while the half of the crew that had elected not to join them trudge off the boat.

Alfred, after quickly checking that everything is well in hand, ducks off the boat quickly to where Florence is waiting with Mina onshore.

“It sounds like that went well.” Florence’s eyes are rimmed with red, and she’s holding Mina’s arm like she needs it for support.

“It did.” Alfred nods. “We’ll be leaving within the hour.”

Florence pulls Alfred in for a tight hug, burying her face into his shoulder to hide the tears slipping down her cheeks. Alfred hugs her back, before pulling away just a little.

“I’ll be back before you know it.” Alfred pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and hands it to her to wipe away her tears. “You’ll look after each other, won’t you?” He glances between Florence and Mina.

“I’ll make sure of it.” Mina smiles at him.

“Thank you,” Alfred says. He lingers a little awkwardly, but turns when he hears George calling his name from the ship. “I ought to go, I suppose. I’ll see you both soon.” He smiles at them, before turning and walking back towards his ship.

“Alfred?” Florence calls after him quietly.

He pauses and turns back to face her. 

Florence chews on her lip, mulling over her next words. “If he is there…” she says, “bring him home.”

Chapter Text

Alfred can’t bring himself to stay still, can’t bring himself sleep, can hardly even bring himself to eat. He doesn’t even know what this feeling is; excitement? Anxiety? Fear? Or perhaps some peculiar amalgamation of the three.

He’s certain he’s been driving the crew half mad with his antics, but he doesn’t know what to do with himself half the time. He’s full of whatever excited-anxious-fearful energy has possessed him, and nothing seems to take the edge off.

It’s the small hours of the morning when Billy finds him, standing at the bow of the ship with his eyes closed, letting the wind and sea spray wash over him as he times his breathing to the slap of the waves against the hull of the ship. He’s found the sound of the ocean soothing since he was a small child, sneaking out to the beach from his family home in the middle of the night, and it feels like the first moment since he’d discovered the letter that he feels even remotely calm.

“You okay, captain?” Billy wanders up to stand beside him, and Alfred’s eyes flicker open.

“I’m just taking it all in,” Alfred replies. “Might actually end up missing this.”

“I didn’t think you actually had it in you to step down. Figured you’d just keep on leading us until you died.” Billy chuckles.

“So did I.” Alfred musters up a smile. 

“Was that your missus, in the harbour before we left?” 

Alfred bites back a laugh. “She’s the wife of the man we’re travelling to find. I promised I would look after her.”

Billy watches him curiously. “I’ll never understand you,” he says, and Alfred huffs out a small laugh. “I will say this, though, you’re a better man than I thought.”

Alfred cocks an eyebrow at him, hoping Billy can make out his quizzical expression in the moonlight.

“I thought you were just a spoiled rich boy trying to rebel at first. You’re too well-mannered, even if you try to hide it.” Billy begins. “And you came to power so quickly that I couldn’t help but suspect foul play. Turns out you’re just very good at what you do. Shame it took me so long to realise it. We could’ve been good friends.”

“Perhaps we could’ve” Alfred replies, smiling to himself. “Thank you for speaking the crew. You’ll make an excellent Quartermaster or Captain, whichever way the vote swings.”

Billy smiles to himself a little. “Thank you, Captain.”

“None of that, please, call me Alfred.” 

Billy’s eyebrows twitch up a little, but he doesn’t comment. They stand in silence for a few moments, before Billy pats Alfred’s shoulder gently. “I think you ought to get some sleep, Alfred. We’ll be arriving in Savannah tomorrow morning, and I suspect you’ll want to be well rested.”

Alfred nods. “I’ll retire to my chamber in a few moments.” 

Billy leaves, casting one last glance back to him quickly, before ducking below deck to the crew’s sleeping quarters. 

Alfred stares up at the sky, tracing the constellations his father had taught him when he was younger. He has no idea what he will find in Savannah, no idea whether Edward will actually be there, or whether he will even want anything to do with Alfred if he is there. Who knows how much could have changed in the past six years. 

And what if Edward wasn’t there at all? He had put on a brave face for Florence, but could he really stand losing him again without tossing himself over the edge of the boat with rocks tied around his ankles? He bites his lip as tears well up in his eyes, gripping the side of the ship so hard his knuckles turn white.

“Please,” he whispers. “Please be there.”

 


 

When the ship docks in Savannah, somehow managing to slip under the radar as a merchant vessel, Alfred can feel his heart pounding so hard it’s a wonder his men can’t hear it.

“Wait here. I think it would be best if I tried this alone before I stormed the plantation with an army.” Alfred struggles to form a coherent sentence as he instructs George on his plans. “I’ll come back if they prove unyielding and we can regroup.”

“Alfred, will you be alright? I can come with you, I’m sure Billy can handle the men-“

“No.” Alfred stops him before he can finish. “I need to do this.”

His entire body is shaking as he bids George goodbye and steps down off of his ship and onto dry land. He glances back at George, and waves a shaky goodbye to all of his men, who are leaning over the edge of the ship to watch him go. It’s rather relieving to know they’ve got his back, if things turn sour. 

Alfred finds it isn’t difficult to find a coach to the plantation when one has a rather sizeable bag of money on their belt, even if one does look like a dirty pirate who is sorely in need of a bath and a clean set of clothes. If Edward is alive, he might get something of a shock when he sees Alfred again.

He spends the entire coach journey lost in thought, going over plans he’d spent every waking hour perfecting, and wondering how on earth he was supposed to rescue Edward, and what his plan is if it turns out his Edward isn’t there. God, he hopes he doesn’t have to put that one into action.

The coach rolls to a stop outside the large gates of Rose Hill Plantation, and Alfred has to take a moment before he’s able to climb out of the coach, paying the driver what he’s due and stepping through the open gates. The driveway leads up to an obnoxiously large house, no doubt built on the backs of slaves, made of sandstone, with ridiculous columns, an excess of windows, and a ridiculously large door that Alfred could probably ride a horse through without ducking.

He knocks on the door sharply, and squares his shoulders in an attempt to make himself look more intimidating. He’s certain he doesn’t exactly look like the type of person who would be welcome in such a residence. 

A woman in a relatively simple grey dress, a housekeeper presumably, takes one look at him, and almost slams the door in his face.

Oh god, Alfred doesn’t even know the name of the man who owns the plantation. “I’m here to see the master of the house,” he says, mustering up his most charming smile. “He’s not expecting me.”

Alfred watches the woman’s eyes flicker over his greasy hair, his not-quite clean shirt - though Florence had made sure he put on a fresh one that wasn’t stained with blood - and his scuffed boots. He can almost see the words running through her mind: ‘no, I’m quite certain he isn’t’. 

He makes a point of casually flicking his coat to the side so she can see the sword on his belt, not that he has any intention of making use of it if he can avoid it. Still, she needn’t know that.

“Come in. You can wait in the drawing room while I fetch him.” She steps aside, letting him through the door into an even more obnoxiously decorated entrance hall.

“I’ll wait for him here if you don’t mind.” Alfred smiles charmingly again.

The housekeeper nods, before hurrying up the stairs, presumably in search of the master of the house. Alfred surveys the room quickly while he waits, trying to hold back his disgust at the sheer decorum of the room, with it’s high, decorative ceilings, and a bust of who he presumes is the owner. It’s really rather unattractive; far too much forehead.

Before he can inspect the room further, a man who vaguely resembles the bust comes down the stairs, walking over to Alfred with a rather obsequious smile, and holding out his hand in such a way that Alfred truly can’t tell if he’s expected to shake it or kiss it. 

“Sir John Conroy. What can I do for you?”

Alfred settles for staring at Conroy’s hand in disgust until he lowers it. “Captain Pelides of the Myrmidon.” Alfred delights in the way Conroy’s face blanches. “I’m looking for a Mr Edward Drummond. I have a letter for him.” He grins, hoping to perfectly balance politeness and malice.

“I can deliver the letter to him.” Conroy holds his hand out with a tight smile.

“Unfortunately I was given specific instructions not to leave until I had placed it directly into his own hand.” Alfred rests his hand on his sword hilt, more as a reminder than an threat.

Conroy straightens up to his full height, as though he could possibly intimidate Alfred in his ridiculous outfit. Alfred thinks his breeches might be tight enough that they would tear if he so much as took a long step, let alone engaged in a sword fight with him. “I’m afraid that’s not possible.”

“Let me put it this way. I have a ship full of pirates waiting not ten minutes away who are just itching for a fight. Now I really don’t think you want me to leave unsatisfied and bring them back with me, especially not with the attention it would draw to the… establishment you’re running here.” Alfred tries to fill his voice with as much distaste as he can possibly manage. “It is your decision, Sir.” 

Conroy swallows, before nodding. “Right this way, Captain.”

He leads Alfred through the house to a much more reasonably sized door leading out into the fields of the plantation.

“I presume, then, that you know about what I do here.”

“I do.” Alfred grunts.

“I’m doing English society a favour, taking in degenerates and sparing their poor families further scandal.” 

Alfred flinches at Conroy’s words, but makes no reply. This obsequious fool isn’t worth wasting breath on.

Conroy leads him through several fields, until he comes to a stop at the edge of what looks like the furthest field from the house. 

“Right over there,” he points out a figure hardly twenty meters away.

Alfred stops dead, eyes fixing on the utterly unmistakeable silhouette in front of him. “Thank you. You may leave now, I shall return to the house when I am quite satisfied.” Alfred says without looking away.

He thinks he hears Conroy huff and mutter under his breath before stalking back in the direction the house, but he’s no longer paying attention. He seems to have completely frozen up, words sticking in his throat and keeping him from calling out to the man in front of him, leaving him staring dazedly at his back.

The manual labour, though no doubt brutal and unrelenting, has broadened his shoulders, which flex under his billowing white shirt as he digs into the solid ground. His hair had been allowed to grow out a little longer, though it seems to still be well maintained, and he pauses for a moment to push his curls out of his face, standing upright and resting on his spade, glancing around the field as he does so, allowing Alfred to see the sheen of sweat on his forehead, and the way his skin has darkened from time spent in the sun, and the way he has a single smudge of dirt across his cheekbone. 

Edward practically does a double take when his eyes land on Alfred, who is still drinking in the sight of him. His mouth opens and closes again in shock, eyes squinting slightly against the sun as he tries to work out if he’s simply imagining the man stood in front of him.

Before Alfred even knows what’s happening, his legs are carrying him towards Edward, first walking, and then running, and Edward has let his spade fall and is matching his pace until they collide, arms wrapping around each other. Alfred buries his face into Edward’s neck, one hand tangling in his soft curls as he breathes Edward in, squeezing him tightly as though he’s afraid Edward might disappear at any moment. He needs convincing that this is real.

He relishes in the feeling of Edward’s arms around him, holding him just as tightly; he needs this just as much. They’ve pressed the entire length of their bodies together, knees knocking against each other, and Alfred is shaking, tears welling in his eyes, and he’s fairly certain that Edward’s arms are the only thing keeping him from falling to his knees, and it’s everything he’s ever wanted - no, needed - for six years.

Edward leans back a little, just far enough to be able to take in Alfred’s face, one of his hands coming up to Alfred’s cheek, just like all those years before, his thumb tracing over Alfred’s eyebrow, his cheekbone, his lips. Alfred wants nothing more than to close the distance between them and kiss Edward, to trace the new lines on his face with his lips and rediscover every inch of him, but he’s painfully aware that they are already pushing the bounds of what is acceptable in public, and are still very much in sight of the house.

Edward takes a deep, shaky breath, still looking as though he can’t quite believe that Alfred is stood in front of him, curled up in his arms. “How can you be here?” he breathes.

“It’s…” Alfred falters for the right way to explain. For a brief moment, fear rushes through him, fear that Edward will toss him aside when he learns of everything he has done these past few years. He pushes that feeling down, refusing to let it ruin this beautiful moment. “It’s a long story,” he says.

Alfred feels Edward’s breath hitch in his chest as he speaks. “Will you tell it to me?” Edward cannot seem to stop smiling, cannot seem to stop touching Alfred, stroking his cheek, his side, his shoulder with every word.

Alfred grins. He can’t help himself. “Later,” he says, feeling a thrill rush through him at the very idea that there will even be a later. Time stretches before them seemingly infinitely. “Later,” he repeats, whispering it more to himself than to Edward.

Edward bumps their foreheads together gently, his hand squeezing Alfred’s shoulder as his eyes fall shut. 

“Are you… How have you been?” Alfred asks. There’s a slight edge to his words as his eyes flicker back to the house, wanting to know if anyone has hurt Edward, or so much as laid a finger on him.

“I’m fine, Alfred.” Edward gently coaxes Alfred’s eyes back to his as though he can guess what he’s thinking. “I missed you so much,” he whispers, and he’s close enough that Alfred can feel the words wash over his lips.

Alfred shakes his head a little, a single tear falling down his cheek. “God, I’ve been so lost without you, Edward, if you only knew-“

“It doesn’t matter.” Edward’s eyes lock with his, his hand clasping around the back of Alfred’s neck to keep him from pulling away, as his thumb strokes up and down the nape of his neck, his other thumb rubbing circles into his side. “What matters is that you’re here now.”

Alfred can feel his breathing becoming increasingly ragged, and his vision is blurred with tears, and all his can think about is the feeling of Edward’s warm, real, solid body pressed against his.

“Florence?” Edward asks quietly. “Is she okay? Is she here?”

Alfred smiles, a few more tears slipping down his cheeks. Kind and chivalrous, as always. “She’s fine, Edward, she’s at home. The two of us looked after each other these past few years. It’s not too far to get back, I know she’ll be so happy to see you.” Alfred squeezes Edward’s shoulder again, relishing in the feeling. “Both of us, we… We’ve missed you so much.” His words are choked, barely even comprehensible. “We thought you were dead, all these years, they told us you were dead-“ Alfred’s words cut off with a sob as he collapses into Edward’s shoulder, his body shaking against Edward’s.

“Shh, shh, I’m here,” Edward whispers, stroking a hand over Alfred’s hair. “I’m here. And I’m not leaving your side ever again.”

“You promise?” Alfred whispers, lifting his head to face Edward again.

Edward’s hands cup his face, wiping away his tears gently as he presses the very gentlest of kisses to Alfred’s lips. “I promise.”

Chapter Text

Alfred finds Conroy lounging on a sofa in his drawing room, drinking something strong which Alfred presumes is whiskey, with Edward following closely behind him.

“Conroy,” Alfred says sharply, and the ridiculous man jumps, almost spilling his drink over himself as he scrambles to his feet.

“Captain, I’m afraid that workers are not allowed in the house unless given my express permission.” Conroy glances at Edward as though he is nothing more than a piece of dirt to be scraped off of his shoe.

“Captain?” Edward leans in a little to whisper in Alfred’s ear.

“Later,” Alfred whispers back, before turning back to Conroy. “I would like to take Mr Drummond off your hands, so you needn’t worry.”

“I’m afraid that’s really rather impossible,” he splutters. “I have a contract with several very prominent men in English society stating that I will keep this man-“

“Conroy, need I remind you again that you are somewhat at my mercy?” Alfred interrupts him smoothly, resting his hand on his sword hilt. “If I leave without this man, I can assure you I will not be returning alone.” Alfred forces himself to sound utterly bored with the entire matter.

“Of course, sir. I will, however, require generous compensation.”

Alfred grits his teeth and makes a show of drawing his sword just a little, though he has no desire to kill Conroy. Not in front of Edward, at least, especially when he notices the way Edward frowns at his action. “How much compensation?” he says, making an effort at diplomacy, if only for Edward’s sake.

Taking in Alfred’s expression, Conroy appears to surmise that he should accept what he can get. “Thirty pounds.”

Alfred nods quickly, reaching into the bag still hanging at his waist and counts out the amount in gold coins, handing it over. He’d rather like to have this whole affair dealt with as quickly as possible.

“Are we finished here?”

Conroy hesitates for a moment before speaking again. “For an extra ten I could arrange a death certificate, should his family ever come knocking.”

Alfred glances over at Edward, with a small smile. “How do you feel about being dead?”

“I think it sounds like a marvellous idea.” Edward places a hand on Alfred’s shoulder, squeezing gently as Alfred counts out a few more coins and hands them over.

“A word to the wise, Conroy. People are beginning to come to their senses about slavery, and I suspect this gambit of yours will be one of the first to go up in smoke. Something to think about.” Alfred eyes Conroy in a manner not dissimilar to the way Conroy had looked at Edward earlier. 

“I don’t appreciate your tone, Captain. You may think you hold authority over me, but I am still a respectable man and you ought to treat me as such.” Conroy sniffs.

Alfred is surprised to note that this time it is Edward who reacts, hands clenching into fists as he takes a step towards Conroy, and it is Alfred who catches at his arm. Much as Conroy deserves it, he’d rather they parted on agreeable terms, given he still had yet to arrange the paperwork concerning Edward’s disappearance from his plantation. 

“We’ll show ourselves out, Sir.” Alfred offers him a congenial smile, though still laced with a sinister edge, before taking Edward by the elbow and leading him quickly out of the house.

Edward is whooping gleefully before they’re even fully out of the door, clapping Alfred on the back and practically skipping down the driveway. 

“God, I can’t wait to be well shot of that place.” Edward beams at him. “And the look on Conroy’s smug little face, I rather wanted to punch it straight off.”

“Believe me, my dear, I was of much the same mind,” Alfred says, smiling wryly over at Edward.

“Oh, but you didn’t need to! You had him wrapped around your little finger - what on earth did you say to make Conroy so afraid of you?”

Alfred purses his lips. He’d rather hoped he wouldn’t have to address that particular subject just yet. “It’s rather complicated.” He leads Edward to the coach, which had waited for him outside Conroy’s gates, opening the door to let Edward in, before climbing in himself. “I suppose I ought to tell you sooner rather than later.”

“Tell me what?”

“We’ll have time to unpack the finer details once we’re on board my ship, but what you need to know is… that I am a pirate, and a pirate captain at that.” Alfred breaks the news as gently as possible.

Edward laughs, before gleaning from Alfred’s expression that he’s utterly serious.

“I’m rather famous actually. Captain Pelides of the Myrmidon.”

Edward stares blankly at him, blinking in shock. 

“Please, say something,” Alfred pleads quietly. 

“A pirate.” Edward stares directly in front of himself, not meeting Alfred’s eye.

The coach rolls to a stop in the harbour, and Alfred glances desperately his ship, which has attracted some attention in the time he’s been gone, before turning back to Edward. “I can explain everything, but for the moment we need to get on my ship and get away from here before someone realises who I am.”

“Your ship?” Edward finally turns to look at Alfred, blinking at him.

“Edward, I’m afraid we really haven’t the time.” Alfred chews on his lip for a moment, before hopping out of the coach and running around to the other side to coax Edward out, quickly paying the driver what he is owed and then some. 

He half-drags Edward in the direction of the ship, ignoring the peculiar looks they’re receiving from bystanders who are, presumably, somewhat scandalised by Edward’s state of relative undress, still clad only in his shirt and trousers. 

They’re almost at the ship when Edward stops dead a few meters from the Myrmidon’s gangplank, shaking his head. “I don’t understand, Alfred, how can you be a pirate?”

“It’s a long story, and I promise I will tell you everything once we are aboard my ship and well on our way back to Nassau.” Alfred does his best to plead with Edward, but receives nothing but blank stares.

“Aboard your pirate ship.” 

“Yes, Edward, aboard my pirate ship. I know this must be difficult for you, and if you decide you never want to speak to me again after you’ve heard me out then we can go our separate ways when we return but-“

“I don’t want that.” Edward interrupts, his eyes suddenly flaring with intensity as he takes a step closer to Alfred. “I meant what I said, Alfred, I never wish to be apart from you again.”

Alfred can’t help but smile, eyes pressing closed for a brief moment as he lets the words soak into his skin. “And I you,” he says. “Now will you please get on this ship with me?”

Edward hesitates for a moment, eyeing the Myrmidon suspiciously, before nodding. He follows Alfred up the gangplank rather carefully, almost fearfully; Alfred supposes that the last time he was on a ship was when he arrived here to be brought to that awful plantation. 

“Pelides!” Billy grins when Alfred reaches the top of the gangplank. “We were starting to wonder if you’d gotten lost. I see you rescued your friend without our help.” He nods in Edward’s direction, offering a tentative smile.

Alfred can practically feel Edward’s discomfort radiating off of him. “Ah, yes, and I feel it is in our best interests to leave as swiftly as possible. I’m a little worried about the attention we’re drawing.”

“Yessir.” Billy nods.

Alfred begins barking orders to the crew, who quickly scuttle around, readying the ship to sail. Edward has to admit, it’s all rather impressive, the way Alfred commands his ship with such ease and power. 

“So bossy, isn’t he,” George saunters up beside Edward, and smiles at the way he jumps when he turns to face him. “It’s good to see you again, Drummond.”

Edward’s face relaxes into a grin. “It’s good to see you too. Nice to see another familiar face on this ship.”

George’s expression turns a little more serious as he looks out over the ship, surveying the crew. “Strange as it may seem, he did all of this for you,” he says. “I don’t know how much Alfred has told you, but you need to know that this whole persona that exists now was built out of his grief over losing you.”

Edward stares at him, somewhat taken aback, mouth opening and closing for a second as he reaches for what to say in response.

“Just… don’t be too hard on him, Drummond. He’s been through a lot these past six years.” George smiles a little sadly, patting him on the shoulder before sauntering off down the ship, making final checks as they prepare to sail.

Edward loiters a little awkwardly as the ship slowly begins to sail away from the harbour where he had arrived all those years ago. He doesn’t look back for one last glance, doesn’t look back at all, in fact. He won’t exactly miss that awful place, in fact he’d rather like to see it burned to the ground. Instead, he lets his eyes follow Alfred as he paces the length of the ship, yelling commands and occasionally checking behind them with a telescope, presumably to ensure they’re not being followed. Edward also notes the easy camaraderie between Alfred and his crew, and can’t help but smile a little just watching him. 

Eventually, when they’re safely out of the harbour and well on their way back to Nassau, Alfred returns to where Edward has been waiting patiently and nods his head, gesturing for Edward to follow him below deck. Alfred leads him into what he assumes is the captain’s quarters, relatively sparsely furnished with a  desk, a bed, and a small bookshelf. Edward notices the familiar spine of the book he had gifted to Alfred and feels his heart swell a little at the mere thought that Alfred had kept it with him all these years.

“I suppose I owe you an explanation.” Alfred walks around his desk, fetching a decanter of whiskey and two glasses stowed in a small cabinet and gesturing for Edward to take a seat.

“Alfred, you don’t owe me, you needn’t explain unless you want to,” Edward says, settling into the chair opposite Alfred and gladly taking the glass Alfred offers him.

“I want to,” Alfred replies firmly, his eyes meeting Edward’s as he takes his own seat.

After a beat of silence, he launches into an explanation of everything that happened after he left his apartment with Melbourne on that awful day: how their families had turned against them; the lies he had been told; his escape with Florence to Nassau; his turn to piracy; his captaincy; the years that followed, all leading up to the point when he found the letter on board the Ilium and his world shifted on its axis again. Edward can feel his heart cracking and breaking as he listens to Alfred recounting every misdeed, every wrongdoing, every moment of savagery, until he’s reeling in shock from it all.

“Finding that letter… realising you might be alive…” Alfred stares just above Edward’s head, his expression fixed into one of deep agony. “It was like I was coming to, waking up from this dreadful nightmare where I had been the most abhorrent villain. Captain Pelides, everything about him, was a fabrication born out of losing you,” Alfred swallows thickly, “and I will never forgive myself for letting him come into being. For letting him drag me so far down into the darkness that I couldn’t even recognise myself anymore.”

Edward can feel tears springing to his eyes as he watches Alfred lay himself entirely bare before him, peeling back all the layers of artifice built up over the years.

“Edward, I promise you, I will spend every single day, for the rest of my existence, unmaking that man, stripping him away and burning the remnants until nothing remains of him but the memory of the nightmare.” Alfred presses his eyes closed, a few tears spilling out, and Edward can’t help but go to him, walking around the desk and crouching down at Alfred’s feet, taking his hands and kissing them gently as though his kisses can clean them of the blood on them.

“We will unmake him together,” Edward whispers.

He kisses Alfred’s hands again, and then kisses up his arms as he rises to his knees, and then he’s climbing into the chair and straddling Alfred as he presses kisses up the length of his neck, across his cheeks, his forehead, his nose, the corner of his lips. He can taste a mixture of Alfred’s tears and seawater on his lips, a salty tang that reminds him of everything his lover has struggled through. 

“Edward, wait,” Alfred mutters, leaning back just slightly from Edward’s lips. “You must tell me your story.”

Edward sits back a little without moving from Alfred’s lap. “Well, there’s not much to tell.”

Alfred rubs his thumbs across the small of Edward’s back where his hands are resting to keep him steady. “I want to hear it.”

Edward swallows a little, but he feels confident that they are far enough from Savannah that Alfred won’t turn back now, so he tells him everything. He tells him of the men who took him from Alfred’s apartment, of his father visiting him one last time before he was herded onto a ship, of his enslavement in Savannah, of the nights he spent wondering whether Alfred was dead or alive, of the time he tried to escape and the beatings that followed, of all the letters he tried to send, only to have them torn to pieces in front of him.

He tells Alfred about the men he met there, good men with stories like his, and Alfred notes the slight resentment in his eyes when he mentions leaving them all behind. Perhaps they will have to return one day to ruin Conroy once and for all, or perhaps society will come to her senses and do it for them soon enough. 

“Edward, I am so sorry. If I had found you sooner-“

“None of it matters anymore, Alfred. The past is the past, and that goes for you too.” Edward rests his hands on Alfred’s shoulders, squeezing gently.

A small smile spreads across Alfred’s face as he tips his head forwards a little so their foreheads bump together. Edward moves forwards, letting their lips brush together just slightly, their noses bumping against one another. Alfred wraps his arms around Edward’s waist a little more tightly this time, pulling Edward close to him as he leans in to capture Edward’s lips with his own, kissing him fiercely as though he’s trying to pour out every ounce of longing that had built up in the time they were apart into this one kiss.

“Should we move to the bed?” Edward whispers against Alfred’s lips.

Alfred leans back with a small sigh, glancing over at the small bed in the corner of the room. “Much as I would love to, we can’t lie together on this boat, not in that way at the very least. My crew respect me, and that is why they agreed to sail with me to rescue you, but, if they were to hear or catch wind of what we are to each other, who knows what could happen.” Alfred runs his hand gently along Edward’s side. “I’m afraid the new world is no less unforgiving than the old.”

Edward sighs, and settles for leaning forward and resting his head on Alfred’s shoulder. 

“You should get some rest,” Alfred says, running his hands through Edward’s hair. “I ought to go above deck and check our course.”

Edward sighs again, and presses another quick kiss onto Alfred’s lips. “Must you?”

“You know it is imperative that we remain undetected, my dear.”

Edward looks somewhat put out, but reluctantly disentangles himself from Alfred’s lap, wandering over to the bed. “Will you join me? Later?” he asks, as he lies down, tucking the covers over himself, already looking sleepy. 

“I will.” Alfred smiles softly at him, following him over to the bed and pressing a feather-light kiss onto Edward’s forehead. Unbidden, his hands find their way into Edward’s hair stroking it gently for a few moments.

“Are you sure you can’t stay now?” Edward murmurs, eyes still closed.

“Yes, my dear. I’ll come back as soon as I can, though.” Alfred strokes Edward’s hair once more, before drawing himself back up to his full height, and turning to leave.

“I love you,” Edward whispers as Alfred reaches the door, causing him to pause with his hand on the doorknob. Alfred hardly remembers the last time he heard Edward speak those words to him, before everything that happened, but they call up memories of white sheets and so much skin on show in the early morning light, and surely Edward must know the temptation it presents. It takes everything in him not to turn around and climb into bed with Edward right then and there.

“I love you too,” he says, his throat thick with emotion, before forcing himself out of the door before he can change his mind. Keeping up appearances is everything, for the time being at least.

As he makes his way above deck, he can’t help but feel a pit in the bottom of his stomach at the thought of leaving Edward, even just somewhere else on the ship. The very idea of losing sight of him for too long terrifies him, as though he might disappear the moment he took his eyes off of him. 

He shakes his head and tries to focus himself on the task at hand as he checks their course against his compass and advises the crew to bear a few degrees more to the left, before beginning to pace anxiously along the quarter-deck, knowing it is too soon for him to return below deck to Edward. It would be bad for crew morale, if they were to see their captain constantly slacking off, but he can’t help the urge to leave.

“You’re worrying, Alfred.” George comments from a small distance away. 

“What?” Alfred stops pacing to turn and face him.

George chuckles, shaking his head. “You look like you need a distraction.”

“Well, it certainly wouldn’t go amiss.”

George leans on the balustrade looking out over the rest of the ship, and Alfred comes to join him, watching him carefully as George summons the right words to say what he wants to say.

“Why did you put me forward as your replacement? And against Billy no less.”

“Don’t you want to be a captain?”

George frowns. “Well, of course, but I hardly think I’m prepared-“

“George,” Alfred interrupts, “you’ve been my quartermaster for five years. I’m fairly sure that makes you the most qualified man on this ship. That is how I got started, if you recall, spending time as a quartermaster under Victoria’s husband until I proved my worth.”

“And what about Billy?” George asks, rubbing his hand over his face.

“He and I have come to understand each other recently, and in all honesty he’s a decent fellow who cares about the ship and its crew a great deal.” Alfred neglects to add that if Billy had been elected as his quartermaster instead of George, he suspects he could have gotten away with a great deal less during his captaincy. “Were it up to me, he would take the role of quartermaster, and you the role of captan.”

“And have him snapping at my heels the entire time?”

Alfred chuckles, clapping George gently on the shoulder. “He’s a good man. Give him a chance.”

“God, I forgot how frightfully dull you were before. I suppose you’ll be like this from now on, now that you’ve got Edward back?”

Alfred can’t help but smile a little dopily. “I suppose so.”

“How did he take the news of your pirate escapades?” George shifts the subject to slightly more serious matters, his concern for Alfred seeping through into his words. 

“Surprisingly well. I can only hope that his willingness to accept my past mistakes endures the test of time.” Alfred tries to keep his voice light, but George knows him well enough to see the slight tension in his shoulders.

“Alfred, if he was still that happy to see you after six years then I doubt his opinion of you can be changed at all. The two of you have something special, nothing so simple as a pirate career is going to change that.” George places his hand on Alfred’s shoulder squeezing gently. 

Alfred smiles just slightly, glancing out over his ship, surveying his crew. “I will miss this, you know,” he muses, changing the subject to avoid the thoughts of returning to Edward which have already begun to brew. “Not the killing and stealing part, but the feeling of being a part of something, the connection to the ocean, this crew…”

“Well, you don’t have to say goodbye to it completely. The crew will still care for you, even if you aren’t their captain anymore. You’ll always be the man that helped them take the Ilium,” George says, nudging Alfred gently in an attempt to coax him out of his melancholy.

Alfred chuckles a little and nudges him back. “I’m sure you’re right, George.”

 


 

Florence paces anxiously along the length of her kitchen. Mina had gone down into Nassau for supplies, and news of the Myrmidon if there was some to be found, an hour and a half ago and had yet to return, which meant either she had been delayed by news of Alfred (and, dare she even think it, Edward), or… well, she’d rather not dwell. 

She and Mina had grown rather close in the days Alfred had been away, and Florence couldn’t deny her attraction to her, nor could she deny the signs she had been receiving from Mina that perhaps she might feel the same way. It was something of a rarity, finding women like herself. In fact, Florence had only ever encountered one other woman like herself, a pirate by the name of Anne, who had visited her bed only fleetingly, before departing from Nassau forever, never to be seen again.

Something of a tragedy, really. 

Nevertheless, Florence is determined not to allow things to head down a similar path with Mina. She is quite through with losing people.

She’s been second guessing herself near-constantly, every time Mina’s hand brushes against hers as she passes her in the kitchen, every time she catches Florence’s eye as she reads and offers her that sweet smile, every time her words begin to lilt just a little as they hint at hidden meanings, every time her eyes flicker down to Florence’s lips… Surely she can’t be imagining it all? Surely this can’t all be in her head? 

Before she can drive herself to further distraction, she hears the familiar sound of a coach rumbling up the path and coming to a halt. Hardly thirty seconds later, Mina is bursting through the front door, looking somewhat breathless, tossing her parcel of supplies onto the table relatively carelessly.

“The Myrmidon has been sighted and is expected to arrive within the hour,” she says, her words coming out in one quick burst.

Florence’s face splits into a grin, and before she can stop herself she’s across the room and bringing Mina’s lips to hers, if only for a second. Surprised at her own boldness, she steps back quickly, preparing herself to make excuses, to apologise and grovel and beg for forgiveness, but, before she can even begin, Mina is stepping towards her again and pulling her in for another kiss, her hands cupping Florence’s cheeks as their lips press together. 

After a few moments, Mina leans back with a small smile, eyes still closed as she relishes in the soft intimacy of the moment, and the feeling of Florence’s hands resting lightly on her hips as she leans forwards slightly to chase Mina’s lips. 

“We should prepare for their arrival.” Mina whispers, as though if she says it quietly enough it won’t disrupt the mood. “Maybe we should prepare a meal or-“

“Their?” Florence interrupts, stepping back, her hands falling away from Mina’s body, and Mina’s eyes flutter open.

“We need to prepare for the possibility that Edward might come back with Alfred.” Mina watches Florence carefully, stepping back towards her to take her hand. 

“If I do that, if I even think that he might come back and then he doesn’t…” Florence pauses, and Mina can see her lip trembling, “then I lose him all over again.” Florence shakes her head, a few tears springing to her eyes. “I can’t do it,” she says. “Not a second time.”

“Then let us pray you won’t have to.” Mina squeezes her hand gently, so that Florence’s eyes meet hers again. “Come on, I’ll help you cook.”

After a moment of hesitation, Florence nods, and Mina leads her into the kitchen and starts unpacking the food she had bought, making idle chatter about what they should cook, whether they have time to make a proper stew or not, or perhaps whether soup would be a quicker option to ensure something is ready when Alfred arrives. Florence smiles to herself at Mina’s efforts to distract her from the situation at hand.

“I think soup is as good a plan as any,” Florence says, more for Mina’s sake than her own, and sets to work preparing the ingredients quickly as possible.

They work in relative silence for a few minutes, Mina seeming to understand that Florence will speak when she’s ready and leaving her to her thoughts as she peels and chops vegetables or the soup. 

“We were childhood friends,” Florence says quietly, glancing up at Mina, “Edward and I. When we were younger we used to play together, and chase each other around the garden, and play at being royalty, or dragon-slayers, or even pirates, I believe. He was my best friend, and he was my hero.”

Mina nods silently, encouraging Florence to continue her story.

“My Father was a drunk, and an angry one at that, and he would beat me if I got in his way. Usually nothing too dreadful, a slap, maybe a kick, but, one day, I fell when he hit me and I cut my lip on the edge of a table. When Edward saw, he was furious. He stormed into my house, demanding to see my father. He must only have been 9 years old,” Florence shakes her head, a choked laugh clawing up her throat, “but he showed himself into my father’s study and when he came out it stopped happening, even after Edward left for school. God knows what he must have said, probably something concerning the intended marriage between us and my father’s reliance upon his income when that time came. But he saved me.” 

Mina watches Florence carefully, as though she’s afraid she might collapse at any second. She has the feeling Florence hasn’t spoken about Edward like this in a while, hasn’t spoken about him in a way that didn’t revolve around losing him in a long time.

“Eventually, he came back from university, and, as was expected of us by our families, we got engaged. I didn’t love him, and he didn’t love me, but I wondered if perhaps that might come in time.” Florence purses her lips as she quickly wipes away a few tears that have stolen down her cheeks. “On the eve of our wedding, he sat me down in private, and he told me as much, that he didn’t love me, and that he thought he owed me the truth, and he admitted to me that night, after some lengthy obfuscation, that he was rather more interested in bedding gentlemen than ladies.”

Mina squeezes Florence’s hand where it has stilled on the knife she was using, halfway through slicing bread to accompany the soup. 

“He told me that he couldn’t bear to leave me in that house with my father, though, and he hoped we could have an amicable marriage, with him pursuing his interests, and me pursuing mine, if I would like,” she says, chewing on her lip. “Once again, my hero.”

Florence shakes her head as though to clear it, returning to the task at hand and cutting the bread quickly into slices before returning to the soup and stirring it a few times while Mina watched her expectantly, waiting for her to resume her story. 

“I wasn’t expecting it to hurt as much as it did, when he found Alfred. I knew I didn’t love him as a wife ought to love her husband, but when I witnessed the evidence of their affair… It was peculiar, I wasn’t jealous of Alfred for stealing his affections. I was jealous of Edward, for having found love like that when I couldn’t.” Florence frowns for a moment, before her expression clears a little, and she places her hand over Mina’s gently. “Perhaps that is no longer the case.”

Mina can’t help but smile a little. “I hope so.”

Florence smiles for a few beats, but it is dispersed all too soon as her expression returns to one of melancholy. “And then he was just… gone. No warning, no build up, he was just snatched away before anything could be done to help him. All those times he saved me, and, the one time he needed to be saved himself, I was… powerless.”  Florence chews on her lip. “I’m afraid that if he does come back he will hate me for not doing more, for not at least trying-“

“Florence, you were up against some very powerful men, I doubt there was anything anybody could have done,” Mina soothes, stepping towards Florence and running her hand up and down her back.

“I suppose you’re probably right,” Florence says, wiping away her tears and taking a deep, shaky breath. 

Mina continues to stroke her hand up and down Florence’s back as her breathing evens out, allowing her time to recover herself as she stares straight out of the window overlooking her garden. She’s not entirely sure how much time passes with the two of them standing like that, hand in hand, but eventually the tender moment is shattered by the sound of a carriage rumbling to a halt outside the house. 

Without speaking, Florence walks to the door, taking a steadying breath as she pushes it open, Wilhelmina waiting just behind her. 

She sees Alfred walking around the side of the carriage towards the door facing her, and she can feel her heart pounding in her ears as, the whole world shifting into slow-motion as he opens the carriage door and helps a familiar figure out. Her hand flies up to cover her mouth to muffle a cry as she stumbles back for a moment, Mina catching her elbow to keep her from falling. 

Edward stands there, eyes fixed firmly on her, his lips slowly spreading into a grin, and before Florence can even think she is running towards him, relishing in the way his arms clasp around her waist. She buries her head into his shoulder and finds herself crying into his shirt, her entire body shaking with each heaving sob. Edward closes his eyes and presses a gentle kiss onto the top of her head, one hand stroking gently through her hair. 

He catches Alfred’s eye where he’s wandered over to Mina to lead her into the house to give them a moment to themselves and smiles gratefully at him. 

“How can you be here?” Florence whispers, leaning back and holding him at arms length as her still-teary eyes scan over him. “How can you be alive?”

“It’s a long story,” Edward chuckles, “I’m sure I’ll have plenty of time to tell you everything.” He  takes a moment to soak in the sight of her, safe, happy cared for. “It’s so good to see you again Florence.”

“God, I missed you.” Florence uses one hand to wipe the tears off her cheeks, but keeps the other firmly on his shoulder, like she’s afraid he’ll disappear if she lets go even for a moment. 

“I missed you too,” Edward says. “Thank you for looking after him for me.” He nods in the direction of the house, where he can just about make out Alfred and Mina sitting together at a small table.

“We looked after each other.” A small, contented smile settles over Florence’s face. 

“And Mina? Alfred seems to think the two of you might be couple material.”

Edward doesn’t miss the blush that floods Florence’s cheeks. 

“You must be starving,” Florence stammers, quickly changing the subject. “Come in, I made soup.”

Edward’s laugh is loud, and gleeful, and Florence’s heart swells with joy at the sound she’d all but forgotten after years apart. She catches Alfred’s eye as she walks into the house and sees the same swell of emotion reflected there as Edward settles into the chair next to him as though he belongs there, as though he’s always lived here.

The pieces of her life are suddenly knitting themselves back together into a coherent tapestry as Edward refills the gaping hole he had left behind, which had never properly mended without him, and somehow it is as though he never left at all, as though he has always sat in that precise chair, lounging just so with his knee knocking against Alfred’s thigh, hand draped over the back of Alfred’s chair so his fingertips just brush the nape of Alfred’s neck. All of a sudden it’s like she can’t imagine what her kitchen table looked like before he sat at it. 

She takes a moment just to soak up the scene in front of her as Alfred makes some lighthearted joke Edward laughs that same, deep laugh, and Mina kicks him under the table, and has to quickly wipe away a tear before anyone can spot it. It feels like maybe, finally, their little family is complete. 

Chapter Text

ONE YEAR LATER

Alfred claps Edward on the shoulder as he walks out of Victoria’s office. “I think we can call that a success.” He grins, allowing his hand to linger just a little. 

Edward looks a little more put out that one would expect given their victory in convincing Victoria to help them lead a mission to liberate the men on Rose Hill Plantation. Alfred gives him a quizzical look as his hand drops back to his side.

After a beat, Edward speaks. “I’m only sorry we couldn’t convince her to liberate all of the black slaves in Savannah as well. I’m certain their conditions are far worse than mine were.”

“Edward, my dear, you would rescue everyone if you could,” Alfred says, brushing his hand up against Edward’s as subtly as he can in the crowded tavern, “but society simply isn’t ready for something like that. We wouldn’t be able to amass the kind of force that would be needed for such an undertaking-“

“I know, Alfred.” Edward musters up a smile. “And I know if it were even remotely possible there would be nothing I could do to stop you. We take the victories we can manage today.”

“I’m rather excited, in all honesty,” Alfred says as they wander down the steps from Victoria’s office.

“Well, I know you’ve been hankering to return to the ocean,” Edward bumps their shoulders together. “Now you’ll have a chance to lead an entire fleet into battle.”

Alfred pauses when he hears the very mild edge in Edward’s words. Almost imperceptible, but still there. “If you’re uncomfortable with me leading this raid then we can find someone else, I’m sure. Victoria just thinks that with my tactical skills and my reputation among the men-“

Edward shakes his head. “Alfred, stop, I know full well you’re the best man for the job. I’m just… worried, that’s all.”

“Worried?”

Edward purses his lips, hesitating before he replies. “You’ve moved so far away from ‘Captain Pelides’, I’m concerned that returning to that role might be… a step back. And then there’s the fact that you’ll be marching into a war and facing guns and swords and…” he trails off. 

It takes Alfred a moment to register what Edward means, and when his words sink in Alfred wishes he could take Edward’s hand and squeeze it reassuringly. “I won’t go back to that place Edward, that is one thing I know for certain, for as long as you are alive. I have no need for that darkness when I have you.” His hand twitches towards Edward’s again instinctively. “And as for the guns and swords… Well, I made it this far, didn't I? 

“Well then, I’ve nothing to worry about.” Edward’s lips twitch up into a genuine smile this time, and his hand twitches in the direction of Alfred’s so that their fingers brush up against each other in a way that could be accidental to the inattentive viewer.

“I propose a toast,” Alfred swallows the lump that has built in his throat, “to the small successes.”

“I’ll fetch the drinks while you find us somewhere to sit?” Edward’s eyes scan across the crowded tavern. There are empty seats at occupied tables, and while he lacks the connections to ask to join someone, Alfred likely knows most of the men in this room, most of whom would be happy to be in the presence of Captain Pelides.

“Don’t take too long,” Alfred says. His hand ghosts over Edward’s hip as he passes him, glancing back quickly before he heads out into the crowd, eyes scanning over vaguely familiar faces looking for someone who seems friendly. 

“Captain,” he hears a familiar voice call over the din of clamouring voices. “Over here.”

Alfred turns to see Billy, sat at a table on his own with a tankard of ale and a half-finished plate of food.

“You know, I’m not captain of anything anymore, it hardly feels appropriate.” Alfred cocks an eyebrow as he wanders over to the table with an easy grin, pulling out the chair opposite Billy and taking a seat. 

Billy shrugs as he scoops another forkful of potatoes and peas up and shovels it into his mouth. “Force of habit.”

“How have things been aboard the Myrmidon? I hope being quartermaster hasn’t taken too much out of you.” Alfred glances quickly over to where Edward is stood at the bar, looking rather out of place with his perfect posture and clean clothes and well styled hair. Alfred really ought to teach him how to fit in a little more, for both of their sakes.

“The crew have been hard work, but they’re manageable. We’ve had a lot of new recruits - everyone wants to sail with the crew that captured the Ilium.” Billy chuckles as he sets his knife and for down.

“And George? Not too insufferable, I hope.”

“No more so than you were.” Billy grins, and takes a large gulp of ale. 

That earns a laugh from Alfred as he settles back in his seat, hands resting on the table. “God, was I really that awful?”

Billy smiles a little wryly before replying. “In all honesty, I think it’ll take a while to find a captain who lives up to your standards. I’m fairly sure you could walk back onto that ship and start giving commands like you were captain again and nobody would bat an eye.”

Alfred decides now might not be the most opportune time to mention that he might have to do just that very soon, if the plan he and Edward have put together with Victoria is to be a success. 

“And you? Are you enjoying your retirement?” Knife and fork in hand, Billy resumes his meal, glancing up at Alfred briefly as he speaks.

Alfred casts another glance in Edward’s direction, before looking back at Billy. “I’m finding it rather pleasant. I’m a married man now.”

“That wench from the Andromache?” Billy guesses through a mouthful of food. 

“The very same.” Alfred neglects to mention that his marriage to Mina was nothing more than a coverup to prevent too much talk about her living in the same house as him, Edward, and Florence, nor did he mention that he had not shared a bed wth her even once, or the fact that she spent her nights in Florence’s bed, while Edward slept in his. It’s a very carefully crafted facade, and it is of the utmost importance that nobody sees past it.

“And your friend? How’s he adjusting to life in Nassau?” Billy nods in the direction of the bar, where Edward is hovering a little awkwardly waiting for their drinks. 

Alfred smiles in spite of himself. “He’s getting used to it.”

Billy’s eyes flicker over Alfred’s face, and his expression becomes unreadable just for a moment. If Alfred didn’t know any better he’d think Billy had seen straight through him.

“Well, I’m happy for you, Captain.” Billy winks at him as he sets his cutlery down on his empty plate and leans back.

Alfred is still trying to interpret that when Edward arrives, setting their drinks down and touching Alfred’s shoulder gently as he takes the seat next to him.

“Speak of the devil.” Billy smirks across at Alfred as though they are in on some intimate joke.

“It’s, uh, it’s Billy, isn’t it?” Edward offers a smile, glancing quickly at Alfred for reassurance.

“The one and only.”

There’s a brief lull in the situation, and Alfred can feel Billy’s eyes assessing the way Edward’s knee is knocking against his slightly, and it’s not like there’s much Billy could do to him now, even if he wanted, but he’d quite like to keep their secret, so he tactfully changes the subject. 

“Do you know, the other day Drummond was telling me the most remarkable story about one of the men he met while he was imprisoned in Savannah. A man by the name of Captain Flint, if you can believe it,” Alfred says, taking a sip of his ale. 

“I thought Flint was dead?” Billy frowns.

“Didn’t we all. Though I believe ‘retired’ was the official story.” Alfred smiles conspiratorially. “A sacrifice for the sake of the Nassau we see today.” Alfred takes another drink before turning to Edward. “Flint is the stuff of legends. Hardly 5 men left in Nassau who have a reasonable claim to having seen him alive.”

“He’s the reason I became a pirate,” Billy glances around a little after he says it, as though he’s afraid someone might have heard, “and you’re telling me you’ve met him?”

Edward squirms a little as Billy turns the full intensity of his gaze on him. “Well, uh, yes, I suppose I am.” He looks to Alfred again for reassurance.

Alfred nods to him, encouraging him to continue, and Edward musters up a smile and begins to tell the story of Captain Flint’s fall from power - one that most people know, but few have heard told quite like this. Soon enough, they’ve gathered a small audience all eager to hear the real story of what really happened to the greatest captain in Nassau, all feeding off of the credibility of Edward’s tale. At this rate, Alfred suspected Flint would have a small cult of followers waiting for him when they retrieved him and the other men from that plantation.

It’s a wonder, really, watching Edward talk to a crowd. He doesn’t have the polished eloquence of a courtier that Alfred had mastered, but he has a certain earnest quality, a natural desirability that could make anyone want to listen to him all day long.

Alfred slings an arm over the back of Edward’s chair as nonchalantly as he can manage, and lets their knees bump together as much as possible without drawing too much interest from attentive eyes. He still can’t get enough of being close to Edward, even after a year of having him back, can’t get enough of touching him, and holding him, and listening to him, and watching him, and feeling him.

He wonders if this feeling will ever fade, this rush of heat he feels whenever he remembers that Edward is alive, and safe, and well out of harm’s way. Edward glances back at him as if to check in, and Alfred gives him a small smile, feeling his heart swell.

He doubts it.